The Musician

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
From far-off in the kingdom comes news of a musician with magical powers, and a King and his entourage voyage through the wilderness to encounter him..

Submitted: June 29, 2017

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Submitted: June 29, 2017

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TThe Musician

 

The news had reached my palace that at the very outskirts of my country, in a dark forest, there lived a musician whose talents were extraordinary.  With his music he made people see visions, strange new worlds, feel deep emotions, and go through states of wondrous ecstasy.  All this, as it was reported to me through the many servants of my palace, was conveyed with his violin virtuosity.  I  ordered that this musician be brought to me immediately.

My servant said, however, "He will not come, your Highness.  Every effort to take him places has failed.  The dark forest is his home, and he will not leave it, no matter what anyone says or offers him."

I was first surprised, then suspicious.  Was this musician hiding something?  In any case, I, the King, wanted this musician to live at my court and play for me--O, I dreamt for a moment that this fabulous player was at my palace, people flocking to him, and to me--my palace would be the best any man could see, the epitome of brilliance--

"Then we should go to him.  And after we encounter him, and give hearing to his music, then we shall take him back with us, and give him a new home."  I wondered if I would have to force him to come here.

"Yes, your Highness--shall I ready a group to go forward now?"

"Certainly.  We will leave at once.  How far did you say it was to this forest?"

My servant paused, then said, "Several weeks, your Highness, if the horses do not ail, or bad weather does not plague you."

 

-----

 

We had a hard time of it, out in the wilderness.  The dark forest lay in the East, where villages are small and far apart. And bad weather did plague us, me and my twenty Lords; there was much rain, we were often trudging through mud, the horses slipping and falling, many rivers were overflowing and uncrossable, bridges were broken, and we were often lost.  There was strange weather too:  once, as we climbed a ridge, thunder crashed out from a blue sky, and my horse leaped into the air, throwing me onto the ground! No one mentioned anything about omens, though I knew they were on everyone's minds...

 

I grew weary of this journey: was it really worth it, after all, to search out some musician, out in some strange forest? He probably didn't even exist; he probably was a riff-raff fancy, a tall tale.

 

After two weeks we all grew restless.  The Lord with the only map had run away one night, along with the map; our peasant guides had the bad habit of getting us lost... All the luxuries of palace life were behind us--the fine food, the best wine, the beautiful women, the dancing....

The  things we had left behind were always on our minds;  memories often came back suddenly and unexpectedly as we slogged forward:  we moved on continually dreaming, trying to escape this harsh reality around us.

Many times, in the morning, I would wake and step outside my tent into a thick grey fog, and I could not see anything.  This cold fog would often come upon us when we were traveling too; then I could see only dim shapes moving, and only a yard in front of me-- I had to proceed slowly.  Also, even when there was no fog, I had the uneasy feeling we were going in the wrong direction, that this was not the right path...At these times I felt lost and frustrated, and only too ready to give up and go back to the palace. We pushed onward, however, beneath the ever-dark sky, through the storms and strong wild winds, up steep ridges in the drenching rain.  I thought:  I have set this task upon myself, to capture this musician.  And I would not be satisfied with anything short of success.

 

----

 

On the day I left, I bad good-bye to the Queen.  My words were direct and cold:

"Good-bye.  I am off the fetch myself a musician for the court.  While I am away, behave yourself."  I laughed, but she did not even smile.

Her eyes were made of ice, and did not look at mine.  Expressionless, she spoke as if from the depths of a dark abyss, far from my sight, barely audible, almost like a whisper:  "My Lord, farewell.."  Then she was silent, pursed her lips, and walked quietly away.

God! there was no warmth between us, nothing....I did recall, though, that once we had loved each other: we had been young then, and full of passion.  O! but now twenty-five years had wasted our spirits and our souls, the fires had died, music had faded away, and we now left with darkness, silence, like scattered ashes in a field of snow.

 

----

 

After three weeks, we were still far from the dark forest, and that accursed musician.  I had only seventeen Lords left now, two dying when a sudden rock slide had come down upon them, crushing them with large boulders.

Everyone in the group grew tired and disgusted.  As a sign of this, an incident occurred on the 21st day of journeying.  It was growing toward sundown, and there was rain, but it was not heavy...

I was sitting in my tent between my two bodyguards.  I was thinking: "Much pain has been created by this journey.  Perhaps, though, when we reach the musician, we shall be richly rewarded. That is, if we ever reach him.How much further?"

"When I return with him, my palace will live once more--the greatest of all palaces, as I am greatest of all men.  I am the King; who dares oppose my will?"

Breaking my thoughts, a voice came from the entrance of my tent.  "Your Highness--three of us Lords would like to talk with you."

"Of course," I said, "Come in."

Then came in, three of them.  I recognized them as Lords B., C. and W.

"Leave your swords at the door," I said.  They unbuckled their sword-belts and dropped them near the entrance.  My bodyguards, I noticed, were watching the three men very closely now.  The three Lords sat down before me.

"Well, what is it?" I asked, impatient.

The middle one, Lord C., said, "Your Highness--do you not think we should turn back now? we are all sick at heart and weary of this little adventure of yours."

"What?" I shouted.  "You do not with to come with me, your King?"

"Your highness, we  three Lords, B., W., and myself, are sick of your musician-- what need to we have of him?  He will mean all our deaths, if you go on!  Remember the omen of the thunder-- and now, all these storms--God is warning us, telling us to go back!  We will leave tomorrow to go home.  If you wish to go on, you  must go on without us three!"

"This is treason!" My heart began to pound furiously. "Bodyguards--take these three away!"

Then things happened swiftly:  suddenly, Lord W. reached into his shirt, and pulled out something shiny and sharp.  What was it---? It was a dagger!

Immediately, one of my bodyguards drew his sword, and the other flung himself on me.

My face on the floor, I could hear W.'s words: "Death to you, tyrant King, insane fool!"  Then I could hear his grunt and the dagger whizzed through the air...past my head-and slicing through the cloth wall of the tent...

I turned my head and saw my bodyguard fighting with Lord W. Lords B. and C. sat there, frozen, as if caught between two opposing forces...Then Lord W. fell--my bodyguard had stabbed him.

 

I stood up.  I was trembling.  My voice shook:  "Bodyguards--take these Lords B and C away.."

Lords B and C stood up, and looked at each other.  then Lord B said,

"Your highness--forgive us. Please realize that W's action was not our doing--we had no knowledge of it.  Please forgive our previous words--feel with us! You too must feel that the days are long, home is so far away, and all this rain...your Highness do you not also want to turn back, return to your palace, where it is warm and sheltered, the air filled  with perfume and laughter of the beautiful women, where you lead an easy life? Why struggle in this wilderness, when with all these comforts you can live in never-ending pleasure?"

His words stabbed like a knife at the very core of my heart.  In his words were my thoughts, too--yet I did not know what drove me on--onward, through all this hardship:  some force, some dangerous power within me, bent on my own death, perhaps...I paused, and for a moment battled myself;  I was about to give in and say to B., "You are right.  Let us go and turn back."

But instead, I said.  "Enough of this, B. you two must face up to the  facts: you have gone against King, God and country.  We are witness to your treason.  Because of this, we hereby judge you guilty. We allow you until nightfall to end your lives.  Remember your swords when you leave.  Bodyguards be so good as to guide and stand watch over these two criminals."

 

Later, it was night, and rain fell heavily:  lying in near sleep, and somewhat wet, I thought I could hear screams from far off in the darkness. then there was silence.

As I wondered what the next day would bring, a lone bird broke out into song from a nearby tree, like a lost musician searching for the right path, playing music that asked the question:  to where shall I travel now?

 

--

 

On the evening before I left the palace, I spoke with my son, the Prince.

"Son, when I am away, watch everything, yes?  Take care of your mother too--"

"Your Highness--"

"Call me Father."

"Father," he said, "Don't you think it would be best if you did not go on this venture of yours?  I mean, well, I would be glad to go in your place.  For your safety---"

"Do not be foolish," I said.

"But your--I mean, Father--I have heard about the omen, Father; remember?  they say that when you were born there was thunder from a clear sky, and the locations of the stars in the heavens were also telling:  the soothsayers agreed you would die in some far-off place, that you would someday go on a voyage from which you would never return."

"My son, I do not believe in such rubbish.  If I did, I would not be the King.  Do not be concerted about my safety."

"But you hair grows white, and age may prove to be -- "

"Son! You are twenty-five, you have your whole life ahead of you.  You should not be concerned with searching out musicians in far-off places.  I, fifty, have yet to live."

"What do you mean?"

"I do not know.--As of late strange thoughts have filled my mind.  Have I wasted my life?  There must be more to the world than this palace:  my country--"

"The country is fine, Father.  You have ruled well:  you have fought successful wars, you have gained support of the people, we are as a whole a happy and healthy country--what more could you ask for?"

"I do not know," I signed."The King grows sleepy.  Let us rest.  Tomorrow when you wake I shall be gone. Bid me farewell."

"Farewell," he said. Then my tired eyes turned from his young face, and I walked slowly to my chambers.  My mind moved back to when I too was twenty-five, when I had to say "Farewell" to my father, King, before I was: he too had made a journey to the East.  I do not recall what his mission was:  only that when he returned, he brought home many riches.  Then, ten years later, he made the journey again:  only this time he never returned.  We waited many years for his return, and during this period, my mother fell into a deep sickness from which she never recovered.  After two years she had died; there had been a rumor around the palace that she had taken some kind of poison....

I had been King for fifteen years now.  I had made no journeys to far-off places;  for the most part I ruled from the palace, almost ever venturing from it.  And why should I have?  Many men were at my command, these countless Lords who obeyed me, carried out my orders, fought and died in battle, appeared and passed from my sight.  The palace was my world, and it was all I needed.  Or was it?

Tomorrow, I thought, I would leave for the dark forest:  I was finally taking a step out of my palace--what would I find?  Maybe nothing; who knows? --maybe it was already much too late...

 

----

 

Towards noon on the 25th day of traveling, our native guide led us to a small village amongst the mountains.  As we arrived in the village, much to our surprise, the people came out to greet us.  The major was there also, and knelt down before me.

"O great King, welcome to our little village!" he exclaimed.  "what is it you seek? What brings you here, so far from your beautiful palace?"

I was tired; my words came out lacking any kind of enthusiasm whatsoever:  "We come...we come seeking...we come seeking a musician, whose fame has spread to my palace.  We wish to meet him...and would like to know if you have any news of his whereabouts."

And as if in a flash I suddenly realized how absurd it all was;  I, the King, before whom this man knelt, and to whom all these people bowed, I, to these people the indomitable force, unquestioned ruler, was searching out a mere musician in the wild forests of the East. I knew then that I should have never come, that now I must turn back--it was all so ridiculous, this journey, this quest--like some game played by children, or the futile efforts those scientists who try to construct perpetual motion machines, or try to change lead to gold.  I felt like an actor who tried to change his role in the middle of a play, an actor who tried to become himself again, and not play any part; but that part enslaved him, and he could not break free... Yes, I would go back, back to the palace..

Then came the mayor's words, simple, direct, and so surprising my heart leaped in disbelief.

He said, "You've come to the right place, your Highness.  That musician lives only several hours from this village."  He pointed to my right.  "That way:  and I'll show you where. Would you care to eat first at my house, your Highness?  You've traveled long, haven't you, and you've got to be hungry."

"No," I said. "Let us go now, and find this musician."  I was impatient and anxious.  Looking at my entourage, I said, "Lords:  stay here at the village until I return.  And if I do not return within two days, then I give you my permission to go back home."

 

-----

 

So the mayor and I went alone into the forest.  We followed a faint trail, which was often quite difficult to trace.  Furthermore, though I knew it was around noontime, it was quite dim in the forest:  many trees, forming a thick canopy above us, blocked most of the light.  The walking was somewhat easy, the ground being dry and flat. Twice we crossed streams, and my feet became wet, but otherwise there were no obstacles. 

Birds sang in the trees, recalling to me the lone bird asking the question several nights ago, that night the two Lords killed themselves with their own swords.  And as I walked, I thought of death, and pain, and the trial we had gone through to reach this dark forest, where lived the famous and long-dreamt-of musician.  I thought of my Queen, and her icy eyes; recalled out long-ago laughter together, how she had smiled once, and how I had held her tightly to myself.. Oh! this was the life to which I could never return! And I thought of my son, the Prince; soon HE would be King, and soon his son...what use was my beginning, when would it all end?

As I followed the mayor of the village, along this path, it seemed I was moving on a road into the past--then I felt as if I was moving in to the future, and then I felt I was not moving at all:  though the two opposite motions canceled themselves out, they still pulled at me, and threatened to tear me apart....

 

We had walked for several hours when the mayor said to me, "We'll be reaching him soon, your Highness.  He usually plays his music while standing in a small clearing; a little ways off is a small wooden shack, where he lives.  I'm only too glad to guide our visitors here, but I really don't want to hear his music.  There's a superstition that whoever hears too much of his music goes insane, loses his mind, becomes the house of evil spirits."

"I don't believe that," I said.  "Tell me--how long has he lived here?"

"Oh," he responded." About two or three years now.No one knows where he came from:  one day, several years ago, a woodcutter came this way and heard it, told us about it, and soon more visitors came and his fame apparently has spread even to your palace, your Highness."

I asked, "Does he live alone?"

"Some say yes, and others say no...." He looked around nervously. "With your permission, your Highness, I'd rather be going now. "

"Wait --- which way do I go?

"Just follow this trail--you should reach the clearing in a very short time.  Good-bye, your Highness, it is such an honor to have you come here--"

He turned and walked away quickly.  I wanted to cry out, "Wait, come back!" But I did not.  Soon I stood there alone.  I looked at the trail leading away from me.  I felt that for the first time in my life, I was on my own.

 

----

 

My legs trembled as I took my steps forward, feeling like a child learning how to walk.  I traveled along the trail for several minutes.  My ears were attuned to the world:  as I tried to hear the musician, I heard other things instead, sounds that seemed to suddenly appear, as if I heard them for the first time:  the birds in the trees (with their many songs) the faint trickling of water (as if there was a stream nearby) a branch breaking, my footsteps with their soft crunch-crunch-crunch on the brown and yellow leaves covering the ground, the whisper of the wind through the trees--

 

And then I heard the music! It was at the same time both barely audible and closely attached to my heart, as if it had stirred something asleep within me, that for so long had rested:  the music was both outside and within me--it seemed to have been a part of me before I heard it...

I walked on:  my mind was now filled with the music, yet I wanted more:  I needed to get closer.  The music grew louder as I walked onward:..

Then I came into the clearing.  A man, his face away from me, was playing the violin.  I stopped and hid myself amongst some vegetation, so that he could not see me, even if he turned around.

 

O, that music, that music! It wrapped itself around me like a mother's arms, I became a baby again--: 

Then I was growing, I was a child, and I played in the countryside near the palace where I was raised with my friends, and I heard their shouts and their high-pitched laughter--:

I was the prince, I was young and debonair, bold and full of dreams I never realized.  My parents had introduced me to Elise, the beautiful daughter of a very wealthy Lord, and I fell deeply in love with her:  o what happiness! The music was her heartbeat, her lips I kissed, her soft breathing, her long flowing hair--:

There was the battle of Arion, where my troops vanquished invading armies, and the spirit of victory rose in my heart; in this music too was the clash of battle, the struggle against threatening and dangerous foes--: 

I was the King, in middle age, and love was dying, slowly diminishing over the years, my son was growing,--and in this music too was sorrow and sadness, for all those lost hours of sunlight, the end of dreams, the saying of "farewell", the vision of things leaving--:

Suddenly I heard thunder from high above, and lightning flashed down from the sunlight!  The air was filled with the sound of crashing, as from a rock slide or an avalanche--

There was fire in the forest, and the sound of screaming pierced the air; I noticed two birds fly from tree to tree together; then they flew down to me:

They changed into two towering pillars of light, brilliant and burning--each pillar had a faint face, too--who were they?  My eyes strained to identify them.  It seemed that they were now Mother and Father, now wife and son, now Lords B. and C.--they kept changing from one pair to the next.

Their mouths were open, they were singing the music, like angels--this was no earthly music...

I had found my father at last, he was not lost in the wilderness, he was here in this dark forest, and he was smiling at me; my mother looked tired, her eyes like broken gems, tossed aside like some old no-longer-worn jewelry, and they wept, her tears, like small mirrors, flashing in the sunlight--

She changed to the Queen, my wife, and her icy face did not melt even in the sunlight and fire; O! but my heart did, something began to burn, my love grew for her again--but it was much too late, perhaps I would never see Elise again--

My father slowly became my son, and his eyes were fire, and as I looked into them, I could see far off, beyond the blazing flames, into a great uncharted darkness--the future, the universe;  there were many worlds there, all parts of the same cosmos, all different facets of the same gem--

These faces faded too, and Lords B and C stared at me, their eyes piercing like fiery sword-thrusts:  they were accusing me, I as guilty, I too must take my life.

I was encircled by fire, the flames jumping and leaping like wild animals; then they took on human form--I had the impression that they were my ancestors, though I knew not what they looked like...

 

The music, full of birth and the springtime, also contained death and winter.  The thunder crashed again:  the two towers of light vanished; suddenly rain fell on the forest, and quenched the fires... Darkness approached and took me as a wave flows onto a shore and swallows a grain of sand.

It was a cold and empty darkness; everywhere I turned I could not see anything.  It occurred to me I could only see myself; I, the King, the King--

These words were so meaningless now, I thought, I am a man like everyone else, and one who has killed himself, dead even while alive--

A sudden cold wind came from out of nowhere:  it tore me apart, and I felt myself losing everything:  my masks were being torn away, mask upon mask, all my disguises and pretensions, as if the play had ended at last, and the actor was becoming self--

In this darkness, the wind seemed to grasp my mind and remove my memories; who was I? For that time, I was no one, I had forgotten everything-even time stopped; it seemed I was floating in this darkness for eons--

Future and the past were one, everything was united, love and death, fire and ice--

And darkness became no longer darkness--I moved into a region which is indescribable--a mixture of darkness and light, blended all into one, shadow and sun interwoven like threads to make the fabric of the world...

 

Then the music stopped.  I found my face wet with tears--had I been crying, because I had been happy, or sad?  or had it been because of both of these?

I looked at the musician, and found him looking directly at me. He had discovered me, but how? Had he heard me weeping?  Had I screamed as if in a nightmare?  Or filled the air with laughter?  In any case, he had found me.

Now that I saw his face, I noticed the amazing similarity to my son: he too looked to be about twenty-five years old; he could have been me when I as twenty-five years younger--I remember looking in a mirror when I was that age, and now seeing that musician before me brought me back that memory, and I seemed to move back in time...

His eyes were incredibly deep, like a fathomless lake, dark as the night sky, with its thousands of stars..

He spoke in a smooth, quiet voice: "Hello. You may come out, I do not mind a visitor now and then... there is no need to hide."

I stayed quiet for a minute or two, then decided to come out:  it was no use, he knew I was there.  And why should I, a man like him, be scared of him?  he seemed gentle enough.

"Greetings," I said. " I am the ..the ... the...the--I am the.." My mind was a complete blank. "I am a man who happened to ...happened to pass by, and listened to you play. It was .. quite good."

He turned away.

I remembered a little now. "Look," I said, "I shall offer you much, if you come and play for me my home; you can live there too, play for people..."

The musician held his violin at his side, and turned his deep eyes to me:  it seemed I was looking into a dark abyss or the universe. 

Then he said, "You are the King, are you not?"

I paused, then I said, "Yes, I am," (Yes, I was, it was coming back to me now). "And you can play at the palace and be so famous, people from all over will come to hear you.  I will give you riches, everything you ever wanted. I am the King, and I have everything!"

He gazed at me, and from that darkness came a kind of glowing fire, burning brighter and brighter--

I turned away quickly, for I could not bear it very long.

He said, "No! I will not leave with you to go to your palace, even if you are the King!

"Not far from here, do you know, I live with my dear wife and my growing son:  we all love one another. It is a warmth I will never give up, even for all the riches and power in the world!  Look around you, O great King! You who are the highest of heights; look at the light sifting through the ceiling of leaves, listen to the bird songs, the laughter of the stream:  all this, nature and timelessness and love, is what my music is:  I do not create it, I merely restate the world around me, and within me--:

It is already around you, but you have not noticed it, it is in you, you yourself are the musician, King!"

 

I grew angry:  my heart pounded faster and faster: "Come to the palace! You shall be my court musician! Your family can come--'

"But this world around me cannot! No! I will not return with you!"

"You shall!" I pulled out my sword. It was long, sharp, and had been through many wars and ferocious battles against evil enemies.  My father had owned it, and so had his father before that...so much blood had stained it, it would be nothing now to add this musician's blood to it -- Suddenly a beam of sunlight came through the trees and struck the gleaming metal of my sword:  it seemed to send off sparks, as if on fire:

The musician looked at me; I could feel his gaze, I could hear his music, though he did not play his violin--and as I walked forward, holding the sword, threatening him, I looked at him, and his eyes spoke: "No, you cannot do it.You cannot kill me, King, for you cannot kill this part of your self. I think that you should return to your palace now."

My vision blurred.  I dropped the sword.  He was right:  it was no use fighting, there was no hope. Would I return?

No: I did not think so:  I had failed, I was dying; and as I fell to the ground, I felt my kingdom slipping from my hands.

 

 


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