Michelle Franklin, in her own words, is: a small woman of moderate consequence. I write many, many books about giants, romance, and chocolate. I am the author of many published fantasy stories and the Haanta series.
For my two week hiatus, as you know I did a call for people to offer up guest articles and reviews etc. Michelle asked me if I would like a short story set in the Haanta series. Michelle has written many, many stories in this world and I was grateful for the chance to host one on Floor to Ceiling Books.
Without further ado...
With what dejection and oppression did the commander observe Alasdair escorting the Duchess back to her apartment in the guest quarter. He walked before them through the main hall with a sinking heart and downcast eyes, listening to his guest but hardly attending her. She could not but be aware of his change in countenance but said nothing beyond the continuance of general pleasantries. She spoke of the moderacy of the concert, praised the pieces and the singers, lauded the traditional Frewyn dress. He responded with a few halfhearted smiles but said nothing beyond a few hums in recognition of her accolades; his mind was elsewhere, and though the Duchess perceived his inattention she did her utmost to draw him from his disparaging considerations until she was handed into her room at the end of the hall. Her attendant followed, holding her train as she passed the threshold into the main room of the apartment. She wished his majesty a good evening, and Alasdair answers with all the manners his good breeding could allow.
The mechanical necessities of the night were done and Alasdair was at liberty to be as openly disheartened as he liked. He thought to indulge himself in one of Martje’s pies but was too miserable to eat; his stomach churned in anxiety and he resigned himself to the consolations of silence his private quarters provided. He did not even close the door when he entered and immediately began to undress. He had only unfastened the high collar of his jerkin when his eyes wandered over to his bed. He pondered sleep but the sight of a something hidden, a something he had thought was secreted away, drew his unmitigated attention. He walked toward his bed and stopped beside the post, canting his head to spy the case beneath. He sighed and closed his eyes: he should not touch it, for to take the case into his hand would follow the desire to open it. This would have been of little consequence excepting the promise he had made himself. He had wished his grandfather’s memory restored in his kingdom before the legacy was to be renewed in his music, but the power of knowing it was ever there, the work of a dusty old fiddle ever drawing him down, begging to for its pearlescent strings to be plucked and the taut bow to be taken into his hand. The force of the remorse he felt in only just beginning to reconcile his grandfather’s legacy compelled him to stoop, and before he could stop himself, he was taking the case from beneath the bed, he was opening the lid, and he was caressing the scroll of the instrument. He ought not remove it but he must; his fingers curled around the bridge, filling him with a warm sense of familiarity. His eyes closed with the consciousness of it being replaced in his hand, the sensibility of which soothed him and agitated him all at once. He must play it; his fingertips ached to again stroll the strings of an implement that had held much meaning for him, but he must harden himself to his promise. He placed it back into its case and before he could conceal it from view, he turned to the door and noticed the commander standing at the threshold with a cup of lemon tea in each hand.
“He would want you to play,” she said with a half smile, remaining in the doorway.
Alasdair coloured for being caught with it in his hands, and with a deep sigh said in a low voice, “I know he would.” He remarked his grandfather’s instrument one last time and resolved to put it under the bed, but in his inviting the commander into his quarters and taking the tea she offered, he subconsciously placed it onto the vanity instead.
The commander acknowledged now what had troubled him: the performance was too well done and had perhaps reminded him of an earlier time, one in which his grandfather were alive and one in which his musical capabilities were encouraged and glorified. Now between the throws of court and the sufferances of stately visits, he had little time to himself. Her intrusions, she suspected, was not unwelcome: it gave him a moment to reconsider what he had best do with regard to his music, whether to take it up once more as an passage for his daily frustrations as he had done before his time in the armed forces or to leave it buried with its mentor. It was true that Alasdair had more than one counselor when living in the castle during his youth, but the guidance and sagacity of Good King Dorrin could not be replaced.
“Do you remember,” she began, spying the instrument with a knowing look and seating herself beside Alasdair at the vanity, “when we were at Church and we were told there was an afamed singer from Gallei coming to sing for us?
Alasdair nodded and sipped his tea.“I was so excited that day.”
“As was I, but only because we didn't have to sit through another fatuous lesson. You were pleased because you thought we were meeting one of vast musical accomplishment.”
“She sang well.”
“Well enough, but her lyrical prowess was abominable.” The commander drank her tea, regarding Alasdair’s renewed happiness from the corner of her eye. “It was all very well until I realized that she was someone the Church had promoted to be their representative. She was promoted if only to prove to us that one may be religious, creative and wealthy. You were so disappointed when you discovered she was a Sister.”
“I was, I admit.”
Alasdair looked into the remainder of the tea in his cup. “My grandfather saw to that,” he said quietly, his lips curling momentarily.
There was a slender pause and the two exchanged a glance.
“To allow such a gift to go to ruin especially when one has the courage to play and compose as well as you do is a horrid shame, Alasdair,” she said in a delicate accent. “I'm certain you would agree.”
He would, but to own such a sentiment to her would mean he would be impelled to play again.
They left their conversation there with the commander offering to take the cup back to the kitchen while Alasdair undressed for the night. They bid their good evenings to one another, but where the commander had planned on sleep, Alasdair could not be so decided; the fiddle was yet on the vanity, and when he lifted the case to return it to its space beneath the bed, his finger somehow unhinged the fastener, his hand was suddenly around the neck of the instrument, his fingertips were upon the strings, the rest was beneath his chin, and the weighted bow was in his opposing hand. He spent a moment assessing the tuning knobs and testing the tautness of the strings with a few hoarse thrums, but soon the memory of what he should play rushed on him. The beginning notes of his grandfather’s favourite Frewyn air screeched from the touching strings. He grimaced and endured the awkwardness of not having played in longer than was good for him, but after playing through the piece once, he was able to continue with tolerable talent and comfort. Presently, trills and skips leapt from the strings, extended reverberating notes resonated throughout the royal quarter, and all at once the mellifluous reminiscence of his powers at music returned to him: the morning lessons with King Dorrin, the evening concerts they made for one another in the privacy of their room, reading together, composing together, and doing everything inspired the notes that were created by his hands. He played any melody he could recollect, stringing them together, making reels into jigs and jigs into airs; his fingers would not rest until he exhumed every note he had suppressed over the last few years.
Servants within the keep ceased their exertion and nobles halted their card playing to hear the barren hallways of the keep fill with sound some of them had not heard in several years. Those who had been used to hear Dorrin and Alasdair play together gave reverential sighs when listening to the familiar songs echo through the castle, and whether the sound was faint or firm from their standing, all were disposed to pause and attend. Their king was playing: this was an unconscionable conception, but it was one when believed made those who had missed his music delighted.
The commander, too, was pleased, and standing where she was on the opposing side of Alasdair’s door and hearing Alasdair’s heart alight with the bygone melodies of their keep gave her immense satisfaction. She smiled to herself and went to the kitchen where she found Martje heaving fat sighs of joy over a folded napkin in one hand and a generous slice of cake in the other
“Aye,” she sniffed, “you’ve done a good thing, kin.”
The commander gave the cook a warm smile. “I did nothing for him that he would not have done himself.” She simpered as Martje stuffed herself with cake to ease her emotions and took a secretive enjoyment in knowing that Alasdair was slowly reclaiming his most deserved happiness.
Michelle Franklin can be found on her blog The Haanta Series and the first novel in the Haanta series (The Commander and Den Asaan Rautu) is available from Amazon on Kindle. Many thanks to Michelle for stopping by!