Aria sat in the audience chamber near the dais where a pair of thrones stood. Her father, King Palos, stood to sing the pronouncements for the last case of the day presented for judgment. His magnificent tenor vocalized the decision. She heard a slight waver. She clasped her hands to control the tremors. The end of his time as ruler of Harmony had begun.
She stared around the room. She would never rule alone for though her soprano voice held a rich and extended range she had no skill with composition. Her ability to use musical instruments was average though she excelled in strings. Aria drew a deep breath. She knew where her duty lay. How she wished there would be love in the marriage she must make but she would do her duty to Harmony.
The moment the audience ended her father came to her. He placed his hands on her shoulders. “You know what lies ahead.”
The sadness in his voice spoke of his need for comfort as well as his gift of the same to her. “I know and I am duty bound.”
The king sighed. “So many generations have passed since the heir to the throne had to wed for duty rather than for love.”
The rich tenor held the birr she’s heard earlier. Soon the entire kingdom would know the king had reached the end of his rule and would become Emeritus.
Aria stepped away. She drew a deep breath. Her answer flowed on pure soprano notes. “Though I yearn for love I will do as I must. I pray a man with a strong voice and talent in the other areas will sit at my side. A man whose melodies will blend with mine.”
Paulus kissed her brow. “You must gather your clothes. The special wardrobe, bed, table and chairs are being carried to the forecourt.” His notes held deep sadness. “I go to fetch the Pipes of Discord.”
“The Pipes. The Pipes of Discord will seal my fate.” Her soprano echoed her father’s emotions.
Aria rubbed her arms. Once her father played the strange instrument she would remain in the amber cage until a man appeared to turn discord into melody. The man who claimed her hand would excel in composition and have a mastery over musical instruments and voice. Hope and fear caused her heart to pound with the booming depth of the sound of a kettle drum.
She gathered simple gowns she could don with no help for she would be alone. When her choices had been made she called the servants. She followed them to the forecourt where they hung the clothes on one side of the wardrobe. The other side was a small room where she could wash, dress and attend to private needs.
Servants brought a bed. Aria stared. Curtains enclosed the space but she was glad she'd packed no nightshifts. Sleeping in her clothes made sense since she would be where she could be seen.
A frown wrinkled her brow. Though she’d read tales of the amber cage she had no idea how food, drink and water would appear. Was magic involved?
Words tumbled in her thoughts. Questions and ponderings that needed music to make them complete. How she wished for the skill to change sad thoughts into a solo. Alas, the music remained trapped between her head and her heart. She placed her lute on the table. The instrument was a necessity. She would need to strum chords for the short recitatives exchanged with her father and the curious who came to view her and the cage. Would the man she would wed arrive soon?
Her father approached. She saw The Pipes of Discord. He held the bag over his shoulder and the mouthpiece beside his cheek. She walked toward him.
“Are you ready?” he sang.
She gulped a breath. “I will miss our quiet times.” Notes of sadness colored her song.
“As I will miss you, my brave daughter. The Academy is prepared to judge those who will try to qualify. Summons have been sent to every corner of the land. Already men flock into town and take a number for their place in the line of aspirants.”
Aria watched her father stride to the steps. Members of the palace staff, the king’s advisors and the noble families stood behind him. Guards formed a line around the square of grass where the cage would appear.
The king primed the pipes and pressed the mouthpiece between his lips and played. No song but ear-hurting noises like the squalling of fighting cats, the screams of a dying rabbit and the growls of forest beasts filled the air. The cacophony caused Aria to press her hands against her ears. Her muscles and joints screamed with pain.
The ground beneath her trembled. Aria’s eyes widened. A slab of amber covered the grass beneath her feet. Along the four sides bars rose to a height at least thrice hers. From the bars amber flowed and met over her head.
“I am enclosed. I am entrapped. I am a prisoner until the man who possesses the three talents needed by a ruler arrives.” Her soprano notes rose above the screeching instrument.
“She is enclosed. She is entrapped. She waits for her rescuer to arrive.” The great mass of people sang in chorus echoing her plaintive song.
Her father approached the bars. He stretched his arm through the narrow space. “It is done, my brave daughter. And now we wait.” His voice reached its lowest register.
“Now I wait. I wait for the man who can turn discord into melody.”