THE BEAUTY AND THE BARD

A SANTHARIAN FAIRY-TALE

 
Master Tribell's Miraculous Narrations   
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Introduction. Once upon a time the whole kingdom talked about nothing but the king's beautiful third daughter and her imminent betrothal. But who would be the lucky one? Especially now that the king had made clear that the princess was free to choose whomever she wanted? Among the candidates: a bard, his weapon: the quill. So: Paladin, duke, merchant, court jester, miller's son, poet, or...?

 

o and behold, oh traveler, behold the lady fair!
You won’t find her like – none of that grace, her flair,
wherever you may search, be it anytime or anywhere...

She’s why they emerge from all the world’s ends,
she’s why paladins head for the vile dragon’s lair,
and nobles and princes, aye, all her old time friends
come hither, hoping the lady might compare
her suitors - to pick the one that’s meant for her.

Once upon a time in one of the ancient kingdoms there lived a princess. Actually she was one of four siblings, three sisters and one male heir, so the story goes; but she was not only the youngest daughter of the king, she was also the fairest of them all. She was a raven haired beauty: tall, bright, jovial, delicate and graceful. Her voice was soft, the eyes ever sparkling, her smile enchanting. In her times they even compared her to Jenefra, the Erpheronian Queen, who, so many say, was the “most beautiful of the beautiful”; but then again the Erpheronians tend to boast and exaggerate and claim whatever land, invention or title they can think of as their own. Maybe our beauty was even daintier than her.
Now the king had married his son off already, and even better: succession was secured when a grandson happened to be born. Even the elder daughters had chosen their husbands not long after the prince, so only the young princess was left to be wedded still. Indeed, when she celebrated her eighteenth birthday, the king sent out word that it was time that his fairest child was ready to be courted; and as the proud father that he was he invited the most distinguished, the noblest, the strongest and the wealthiest candidates, alongside the most revered representatives of the fine arts of the whole kingdom and beyond. There was no doubt in his mind that there’d be a long line of suitors. Thus he was happy for his favorite daughter, and already made arrangements for a great feast to be held within a few months’ time.

“Oh, little one, my precious sweet nightingale,” her father said to the princess. You have to know, the king used to call her that because she enjoyed the arts and was a truly magnificent singer as well. “I won’t be in your way when you select your future husband, I assure you, dear daughter! You may marry whomever you please, for the kingdom need not fear the years ahead, even if my time were to come soon. Your brother already presented me with the king to be and your sisters all had my wholehearted approval too when they married themselves, and I see they indeed married well. Thus, my dear, just let me tell you one thing: Decide on the one who’s right for you, the one you love, not the one you feel you’re obliged to betroth. You have my blessing right away. And should it be a beggar,” the king joked, “so it shall be. The one my sweetheart is going to choose will also be the right one for me.”
And so it happened that from all parts of the country and even other kingdoms and from places oversea there came a stream of promising young men. All of them wanted to behold – at least once in their lifetime! – the unmatched allure the princess exuded. And once they found the rumors of her exquisite beauty confirmed they were all but ready to woo the kingdom’s most coveted maiden. Indeed, almost within a heartbeat every single one of the many visitors at the king’s court turned into a dedicated admirer and vowed to move heaven and earth to win the princess’s heart.

Ah, it was quite a spectacle, my friend! There were knights in shining armor parading in full gear in front of his majesty and his little sweetheart daughter looking on! They fought the fiercest tournaments to receive the honor of presenting a single red rose to her. And the princess would take it and curtsy, ask them to take off their helmets and reward the bravest ones with a kiss on the cheek. What a commotion! All that buzz, those whispers and mutterings, sprinkled with “Ohs!” and “Ahs!”, applause and cheers; and then a promise was usually made to allow the victorious combatant to attend a banquet in the royal dining hall, followed by a walk at the lake with the treasured lady and... – well, who knows?

So the princess got together with such a valiant knight, and then another who won a second tournament, and there was a third, the captain of the guards himself. Oh, and add to that a former rogue turned respectable, who had defeated the kingdom’s most notorious bandit leader. The fifth, a paladin of great renown, then challenged the first one and after that the second as well in a duel. Against both he won in such impressive fashion, that almost any lady present at court began languishing for this particular hero because of his one-of-kind display of splendor in battle. Of course he got his kiss and the privilege to see the princess as well. That particular romance also lasted quite a bit before it was labeled a thing of the past. There was even another fighter after that, one who dared to confront a dragon in his beloved’s name… However, unfortunate as he was, he got roasted by the monster’s fiery breath on the spot – and under such circumstances it’s understandable that the princess preferred to dine for once without company.

Well, our fabled beauty met her share of fearless men, no doubt about that. But maybe fearlessness, courage and might weren’t all she was looking for, for nothing came from all of this. Naturally, there were other suitors who followed suite with their own peculiar traits added to the heroic mix, feeling confident that their hour had now come. But eventually the knights, the paladins, the commanders, the captains of the guards and all those others who had tried to impress her with wielding a weapon or proffered a demonstration of their strength, had to make way for other options.

As it was, the princess’s reluctance to tie the knot with the men of the sword made other hopefuls vie with even greater fervor to get her attention. Even more so as the rumor spread that the princess was given free hand to decide, so even the humblest of commoners suddenly felt that it was their destiny to present themselves to the lady of everyone’s dreams. Requests came in the hundreds to be received in a private audience. A good deal of “acquaintances” – as you might call them – showed up, however distant and vague the connection, even former playmates of times when the princess still hadn’t learned to walk, to count or had still been in her mother’s womb offered themselves. Inspired by all this even the court jester made an audacious pass on her, right in front of king and queen! It might have been part of his act, then maybe not, but he took his shot against all odds or good advice and… was gloriously ignored. Tough luck, but who can say when a joker means to put in a serious effort for a change?
 

A Santharian Bard

Picture description. The bard also  fell in love with the beauty. Image drawn by Quellion.

Among the admirers there was also a bard, who had known and admired the princess already for quite a while, but only from a distance. He then happened to meet her in person at a festival dedicated to the kingdom’s artists where she attended too. At that event the bard was assigned the task of reading some lyrics to welcome the guest of honor, and well, forthwith he fell head over heels in love. True, he wasn’t the first one at that. The bard even confessed his love right there when the opportunity presented itself. He also promised that he was going to dedicate a poem to her to express how he felt, and should she consider a private audience, he wouldn’t object. The princess smiled – she must have been used to all kinds of advances by now! –, and answered that she was looking forward to such a poem. But alas, to the bard’s chagrin, the beauty soon was off again, chatting with other painters, sculptors and writers that attended the feast, collecting compliments, invitations, presents, the whole lot. The artists’ respective patrons of course followed suit and so the poet’s competition soon included dukes, counts, wealthy merchants and popular governors. And there was always a hopeful miller’s son.

Then, a few days later, the princess indeed received a personal letter, and as she opened it found a song the poet had composed especially for her. He was aware how much she liked to sing and hoped that she would enjoy it as much as he had enjoyed writing it. To this the princess replied by sending back a brief thank you note, in which she hinted at seeing the writer of these flattering lines perhaps in a couple of weeks. Not any earlier though, for she had accepted a proposition of a baron to pay a visit on his very own island, where one could taste the most exquisite wines and foods, were to admire the most stunning sunrises and sunsets and get overwhelmed by the enchanting beauty of the scenery. Sights wanted to be seen, life to be enjoyed, and apparently the presence of the princess was all that was needed to make it all complete.

Thus the beautiful daughter of the king went abroad with all her royal entourage in tow. In a way it was a relief to the whole court, for the suitors had shown no sign of letting up, undecided as the matter had remained. As it turned out, the princess would stay away for quite some time. Because, and that is hardly surprising, there were more invitations of various proud lords of castles and masters of pompous manors, who committed themselves to follow the example of the first host – of course with the intention to outmatch the forerunner. So the princess toured the lands for several months and probably had seen half the continent by then. However, despite the many sights seen and the life enjoyed on islands, mountains, lakes, even in dwarven halls, the elven forests and after roaming the loveliness attributed to the rolling halfling hills, the princess returned with a lot of impressions, but not with a husband to be.

So it started all over again. There was a big feast celebrating her arrival back home, and the suitors once more began queuing and pursuing, dancing and prancing, the atmosphere was filled with romance.

The bard, and her promise to him, she had forgotten.

The poet had not. Another poem arrived two days later in the chamber of the princess, and she sent back another thank you note, in it the prospect that she would see him soon, very soon. The poet was overjoyed of course and waited and waited, but as the days went by he saw his hopes dwindle. It was not that he didn’t see her; from afar he did so every day. That was because the bard used to sit under a large oak tree every morning, an oak tree up on a hill next to the castle overlooking the valley. He liked to gather his thoughts out there in the open and put down a poem or two. Likewise, the lady of his heart had made it her custom to ride out on her white mare after breakfast, and that’s why he followed her along her way, if only with his eyes. But surely he wouldn’t have dared to interrupt her daily excursion and remind her of the promise she once had made. It was unseemly to address the princess unless she had given permission first or there was a proper occasion; sadly, there wasn’t.

So it came that the bard observed the princess from his vantage point under his oak day by day, and what he saw was not always the way others perceived her, as elegant, full of spirit and mirth. Sometimes she would get off her horse and walk by its side, sit on a rock near the wayside or gaze for a long, long time in a pond as if she were sad. Maybe she was thinking about her suitors, the decision she had to make, maybe she suffered from an illness nobody knew about, or there was something else on her mind she didn’t want to share. The poet wondered often about this. Whatever it was, she preferred to deal with it alone. Every now and then the poet even thought that he saw her wipe away some tears from her cheeks. But there was nothing he could do: he, sitting on his hill, the one he loved half a league away and not even aware of him, and aside from the distance the rules of etiquette drove a wedge between them.

In a way the bard loved the princess even more for what he witnessed during these morning hours, because it proved to him that she was a creature of flesh and blood; whereas whenever she appeared in her official attire in court or as a guest at a feast it was her loveliness, her grace and charm that kept everyone spellbound. Nobody had ever seen the true person behind the princess, he mused, and while the poet had been allowed a few glimpses, he was longing for more.

However, the next time the bard saw her at a festival, all worries that might have plagued her, seemed to have vanished; because there she stood again in the center of attention, her looks breathtaking, cheerful as ever. Later in the evening he saw her sing a song to entertain a group of nobles; which was when the bard realized that it was his song that she sang, his rhymed words she intoned, his tale about the beauty of a nightingale that she recited. He listened, and it was magnificent. There was a big round of applause once she finished, and the princess curtsied in front of the audience.

Driven by his urge to express his feelings, the poet couldn’t help but approach the singer that had sung like a genuine nightingale, exactly as he had described her in his song. “My dear princess! I am glad that you liked my work so much, I am truly honored!” he commended her. “You performed it with such passion, as if you knew what it is about, in your heart and in your soul... The song couldn’t have been sung any better than by yourself!”

The princess now seemed to remember him, and she thanked the poet once more for his poems and told him how much she enjoyed them. She loved this song in particular. It was quite difficult to sing, she noted however. But luckily the poem found its match in the one who performed it, she joked. Hence the princess and the bard talked for quite a bit: Where she had traveled, whom she had met, dined with, conversed with, about the mare she rode on and liked very much, the festivities she still had to attend to. The poet listened to her talking, for he was very intrigued by every word she said. But then she kissed him on both cheeks and said she was to leave now, however, that she looked forward to seeing him again and that she would send him a note soon.

“Dear princess, you have a very special place in my heart,” the poet asserted as he bowed and said his good-byes to her. “Trust me, no one else will ever be able to make me feel what I feel for you.” The princess beamed and her eyes sparkled, then she waved to him and disappeared among the guests to enjoy the rest of the evening with other company as she had done so often.

In the following weeks and months the bard wrote many more songs and poems he dedicated to the princess, and each time she affectionately wrote back to him. Or so he thought for a while. Because after all she headed out again to further visits of wooing candidates, all those dukes, counts, wealthy merchants and popular governors. There were more feasts when she came back, and a whole series of tournaments in her honor, more requests to receive an audience, and it all started over again. The suitors were queuing and pursuing, dancing, prancing, romancing.

The bard, and her promise, the princess had forgotten.

Thus the months passed, and so it was already more than two years since the king had announced that his youngest daughter was about to seek a betrothal. The preparations that he had begun himself back then to that end however had turned out to be premature, and if and when his beloved daughter were to find the one no soothsayer in the whole kingdom dared to predict.
Time and time again the bard was sitting under his oak on the hill overlooking the valley, and whenever the princess was in town, he watched as she was riding out. Nothing had changed from the day he had first seen her on that route. Oftentimes she sat on the very same rock near the wayside, gazed into the pond for a long, long time, and she cried, all by herself.

And the poet composed another song.

One day when the unattainable princess left again, the bard left too – not with her, not just for a while, but forever. He left the kingdom and the one he cared so much about, for his love had remained unrequited all this time and his heart was bleeding. The princess, her hardships and her aspirations, her fears and dreams, whatever made her the one she was, the bard never had got to know and he never would. But he needed to leave, lest be destroyed by his longing for her.

So, I can hear you ask: What happened to the princess? Did she find the one for her after all? And if so, did they live happily ever after? Who was she? And why did she cry and didn’t satisfy her promises to the poet? Which one was the kingdom she was a princess of anyway? And – I can imagine you asked yourself already from the very beginning –: What was her name?

Alas, my dear listener, I cannot answer these questions. Because, well, the truth is: nobody knows.

You see, all we’ve learned about that fabled princess we owe to the poet, whose name is Triach Voldrian by the way. He’s often mentioned alongside the legendary Monsonius or Chýran of Caelum, as one of Santharia’s finest scribes, proficient like few others in his artistic craft. In all his works – be they love poems, ballads, sonnets, even in his elegies and dirges – you find her: her, that’s the princess, or at least her spirit. In the one way or the other, if not in person, there she is nevertheless, if you only look and listen: his muse, his inspiration, she, the inaccessible one, the elusive, the fleeting soul that made him into what we know him for today. Even decades, centuries later after he is long, long gone, his verses are still with us; the memories of yearning and secret passions burning, they feel as near, as vigorous as ever.

Maybe it’s better not to know how the princess’ story ended, for she lives on in the writer’s work, to always be part of our imagination. Triach already knew all that when he gave up pursuing his love, but kept the memories of her as a fountain of poetic wealth from which his songs could blossom. As such his poems spread all over the continent to touch hearts and minds alike, and they still do:

Lo and behold, oh traveler, behold the lady fair!
You won’t find her like – none of that grace, her flair,
wherever you may search, be it anytime or anywhere...

She’s why they emerge from all the world’s ends,
she’s why paladins head for the vile dragon’s lair,
and nobles and princes, aye, all her old time friends
come hither, hoping the lady might compare
her suitors - to pick the one that’s meant for her.

Oh fair maiden! Your nature is a wordsmith’s plight!
Enigmatic, melancholy, and yet you’re light as sprite!
Though however your beauty shines,
whatever you hope and dream
– alas, it all will wane.
Only a bard’s woven praise for you
is destined to remain.
 


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Fairy-tale written by by Artimidor Federkiel View Profile