The heroine - Aria
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
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.know what lies ahead.”
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.”
The Hero - Ivor
With a jarring thud, breath escaped Ivor’s lungs with a whoosh. He landed on grass and old leaves. At least he hadn’t banged his head on the gnarled roots of a tree he’d never seen before. Where was he? The question circled in his thoughts. He eased to a sitting position with his back against the massive bole. His gaze swept his surroundings. A clearing in a forest of unfamiliar trees. Some were conifers and others hardwoods. The fullness of the canopy meant the season here was akin to the world on the other side of the amber mist.
A smile threatened to split his dry lips. He was alive and he was free.
Slowly he pushed to his feet. He bent and grasped the flute lying on the grass near where he’d fallen. He made his way through the forest until he reached a wide path that appeared to begin just yards beyond where he stood. He trudged until the trees thinned.
A faint sound of music caused him to walk faster. He hoped to find an inn where food and drink were served. He was famished and parched. After passing a row of cottages he saw a sign featuring a painted lyre. He pushed open the door. Savory aromas surrounded him. His stomach growled.
A rotund man approached. “Greetings, sir. How can I help you?” He sang the words in a pleasant baritone.
“I’m newly come. I seek food and drink. I don’t have any coins.” Ivor pointed to the gems on his sword. “Would one of these be payment for food and a room?”
The man clasped Ivor’s hand. “Have you no singing voice?” He pointed to the flute. “Are you just familiar with instruments and do not know how to sing?”
Ivor drew a deep breath and let his words flow tenor pure. “My name is Ivor. I sing. I play. I write new melodies and sometimes the words.”
The innkeeper bowed. “I see. I see. Since you are a stranger to the land I will have you stay at my inn. One of the gems will grant you room and board for a month or more. Come and sit. Food and ale you will have.”
Ivor sat at one of the tables and tasted the savory stew. Though the flavors were different from the ones he knew the food tasted delicious and eased his hunger.
As he sipped the ale he heard a lilting soprano singing a song that evoked sadness. “Who is singing?” he caroled.
“The Princess Aria. One day she will be our queen. Have you come to Harmony to enter the competition?” the innkeeper sang.
“What do you mean?”
“Many men with talents musical have come from all corners of the land. To stand a chance to gain her hand only the best will do. The chosen one must excel in vocalizing, instruments and in composition.”
Ivor frowned. “Music seems to be important to the land.”
“It is a most important element. The princess awaits he who can free her from the amber cage.” The innkeeper’s voice rang loud and deep.
“Amber cage?” Was that why he’d been sent here, but he had no desire to rule a land. “I fled my home. My father forced me to give up music. If I desired the rule I could no longer sing or play.”
The innkeeper laughed. “Here in Harmony matters are quite different.”
“What about those who fail?”
“If they have a talent into the Academy they will be accepted.” The man sang. “For those who have high scores in just one area an appointment as Maestro will be made. Then they can either perform or teach. The man or men who excel in all areas will be given a chance to turn the sounds of the Pipes of Discord into melody.”
Ivor slid his fingers along the flute. Though he had no desire to rule if he could find a place in this Academy where he could compose, sing and play he wouldn’t have to wander to pay his way. “Where can I go to learn more?”
The Villain - Odon
Her thoughts turned toward the basso. Odon’s attitude reeked of arrogance and frightened her. Her eyes widened. The barrel-chested man strutted across the lawn.
“How fare thee, fair Aria.”
His deep vocalized greeting brought images of operas where the villain strove to capture the heroine and carry her to his lair. She sought words to respond but none appeared.
He was handsome enough if she liked men with granite carved features, massive shoulders and a permanent sneer. His physique aided the production of notes so deep they sent chills riding her spine.
“I am fine.” The waver in her notes belied her answer.
“I hear eagerness in your voice. You will be pleased to hear I added a second in voice to my first in instruments.” He grasped the bars with meaty fists. “Soon you will be mine. You will be mine, mine, mine.”
If the Goddess Euphonia would hear her prayers he would fail. “I will be yours only if the pipes answer to your touch.”
“How can they not? I am a master extraordinaire of all musical instruments. Under my touch discord will become melody. Harmony is my kingdom. The riches of the land will be mine, mine, mine.”
The last of his low notes wavered in the air. He turned and strolled away.
Tears burned Aria’s eyes. What would she do if he won? One thing became clear. Odon was not a man to take failure well.
Feeling like a caged beast she prowled the cage. How she yearned to leave this confinement but not if Odon mastered the pipes and won. Could Turan, the second of the leading contenders be the one?