By Dartanian Lestor in Dark Ages
A Short Story from "Where Sleeping Heroes Lie"
She remembered the day she had first laid eyes upon her treasure. Oh boy, oh joy, it had been ever so much fun. The wonderful present had sat propped up against the fireplace, wrapped in the finest parchment, the prettiest bow, the lovely gilded card that bore the label "For Marlina" in bright, shining metallic letters attached with a string. It was a wonderful day for her. It was also the day that he would die to her, though she did not know it. He was to become a demagogue.
Her fingers trembled as she unwrapped the bow and ribbon from its delicate package. The parchment slid away gently, rustling gently against the old wood. It was an old lute. The craftsmanship was exquisite. Each edge of it was carved with the utmost care, nearly as smooth as her own pale skin. The carver had held their hand steady, blade widdling away at it as if the slightest scratch would mar its beauty forever. It was a rich oaken colour, the strings tied to the bars above. It was certainly a beautiful lute. And most important of all, it was for her, for Marlina.
A figure kindly watched as his girl had opened the present. He had intended it to give it to her personally, but there was no time to spare, none to lose. As he walked out the door, he heard the light strummings of a child without a care. It was a jumbling of tunes woven together, and any listening would tell you that it was not pleasant to the ear, but it was full of life. The life that only a child of six can know. A life of innocence, of freedom, of love and hope. He had given his freedom for politics. Marlinas father shut the door and walked out of her life. Well, of course, his body was around. His body ate, sat next to her, read her a story. His eyes held no life. Each night, he would look as if the strings of a marionette were all that kept him upright. His legs jerked and arms moved only because they had before. The mind worked, but there was nothing inside to keep him going. Thus, he died, fainting away from exhaustion one day, head laying on the unread parchments of a new proposal.
They buried him near the middle of the town. Marlina stood in her little black dress, looking forward in disbelief. She stared at the body for sometime in disbelief. His skin had seemed oaken, withered and carved away delicately. The strings that had held him had snapped. In his deep eyes, embedded in small crevices on his face, the same dead stare emitted. In his folded arms was the black burial rose that was the tradition of the village. Marlina clutched her lute, shaking her head and ran. Ran until she fell. Fell until she cried. Cried until she collapsed.
And so Marlina grew into a fine young woman. Her hair was a gentle silver, so that it blended with the moonlight reflected off the streams at night. Her eyes were masks of the same silver, glittering softly in the darkness, like two beacons on the shore. Marlina grew into a great bard, but her songs always had a melancholy tone to them, solemn and sobering. She lived off her earnings from day to day, accepting tips as a traveling minstrel. When she left the city, she combed her hair gently off to the side and slipped a soft black rose over the ear, thorns and all. If any asked, she only said it a "memento of her father."
And strumming slowly in a tavern one night, it so happened that a young man listened to her soft tune. She strummed, and she plucked and she played the oaken lute away. He was near brought to tears. When the music ended, the bustle of the tavern filled the void. The man looked casually around and let out a gentle clap, just for her, for Marlina. And it was that time, for the first time in years, that Marlina smiled again. Her face lit up and was alive again.
His name was Cole. Marlina fell in love quickly with his blond locks, his sweet smile, his gentle arms. In the mere time of 3 double-moons, they were wed. Marlina put away the black rose on her ear. She held the lute high and played a happy tune. Flowers were delivered to her by him once a day, with a tag reading "For Marlina." Her tears went away.
Cole and Marlina lived together happily. Every day, Cole would stroke Marlinas cheek and tell tales of his love for her. Marlina would play her lute and look in Coles eyes, professing her love as well. The whole town heard of her happiness and were glad to have Marlinas smile once more. Some friends died, bearing the black rose of death. Marlina mourned them, but not as long as she would have. Cole had brought her out of her pit of despair. Their other friends cheered them on and wished them a happy life.
It was a few moons into their marriage when Cole decided a change in his life was needed. Marlina begged him, pleaded that the change was not necessary, but he insisted. His noble desire to come to the age of his village called to him. He told Marlina that he still loved her and that he always would, but his town needed him more. He wanted to enter into politics and become a demagogue.
Marlina continued her protest to no avail. Cole turned to the door and took a look at his wife. Her eyes that once held the vision of her and him together for eternity now glared with an icy cold that fixated him for a moment. He exited to the drudgery of the political world. His papers would soon be swamped in parchments, his eyes would lose their life, his heart would lose its gentle touch. He would be just a shell.
Cole was working late one night at his office when a messenger knocked on his door with a package. What could it be? He looked closer at the package and saw the label. The metallic gilded letters on it said "For Marlina" but the for was crossed out and sketched in was a "From." He quickly untied the ribbon and bow and looked at the contents of the package. It was a finely polished, oaken lute, with the strings tied to the top. And on top of it was a single black rose with the thorns still on.