Once upon a time a farm boy with the voice of an angel and the ego of a god sang before a fae lady he met on the road. He was wandering to escape a day's farm work with his father and she was traveling to see the queen of Eliria.
The boy didn't belong on the farm, walking behind a track of stubborn oxen who would never appreciate his voice. Oh yes, she thought him quite good, but also too smug.
"You have a lovely voice. Your voice shall always be lovely," she said, a foretelling that she did not offer to mortals. He nodded as though he had always known the truth. "But what will you do with it, boy?"
"I will travel the land, sing at the court and win the praise of even the rulers."
"You think so, do you, child?"
"That's my future."
"And if you don't win such fame, will you come back here and sing in your village?"
"I will not come back to this place until I have the fame given to me by the sovereigns of the land," he said, his head lifted.
"So be it."
She walked away, down the path and into the forest. He turned towards home . . . and couldn't go there. He couldn't go back.
So, at the age of thirteen, he started a long journey. The pretentiousness of the child quickly disappeared as he sang for scraps and slept on the streets. It was a long ways from his village to the castle. . . .
But he made it.
At nineteen, Loren played for the Queen of Eliria on her sixty-fifth birthday. He had a wonderful voice and deft fingers drew the sound of a gentle breeze or a crashing storm from his lyre. In taverns, men often forgot their ale to listen, enraptured by the sound of his voice and the stories he sang to them.
But the Queen sighed with boredom, looked past him towards her guests, and yanked at a thread on her sleeve, obviously anxious to have the music over.
Loren skipped two versus and sang the last of a ballad he had written for her. She nodded as the others clapped. With a wave of her hand, she sent him out of the room.
The Castilian handed him a bag of coin, his cloak and his lute case and escorted him to the door.
Loren stood outside in the courtyard, watching as groomsmen curried the horses of nobles. He could have played for them and they would have forgotten their work.
He wanted to go home. He had been a pretentious boy when he met the fae woman. The king had died. The Queen. . . .
"She's tone deaf, you know."
He looked up, startled. A young man dressed in rich cloth of greens and gold stood on the walkway.
"Pardon?" he said.
"The Queen. She's tone deaf. More than that, she's nearly entirely deaf. And it annoys her that others take pleasure in something she cannot. You shouldn't take the dismissal so badly."
"She couldn't hear me. There's no hope, then." Never go home.
"Come sit in the garden," he said. "No, it's all right. I'm Prince Pierce, the Queen's grandson. I pretty much get to do what I like." He smiled, and guided Loren off the tree-lined path and into a garden of flowers, fountains and benches. Loren gratefully settled on the nearest and found he still had the lyre in hand. He looked at the instrument as though it had betrayed him.
"You are acting as though dismissal from the queen is the end of your career. I know you're too good to just give up music."
"Give up music?" The idea shocked him. "No, of course not."
"Good, because she's not the one you should be playing for. I'm holding a party tomorrow night, here in the garden. I'd like you to come and play for us. I pay well."
He started to feel better. The mention of more coin didn't hurt, either. Living in the capital proved to be far more expensive than he'd expected -- but when he could get jobs, they paid very well.
"I would be honored to play at your gathering," he said and finally had the grace to bow his head to this prince.
"Excellent. And the good news is that people come to my parties because they want to, not because they have to."
So he unexpectedly came back to the palace the next night and played in garden where the Prince's friends gathered. He played at the palace often over the next few years, even at the old Queen's funeral where he sat beneath the statue they erected at her monument. Irony, that. But he sang gentle songs, because she had been a kind woman in her own way. And sometimes, in the years to come, he would go to that tomb and sit at her feet to play, just for her. He thought maybe she might hear him now.
He sang at the coronation of the new king, Pierce's father. He wasn't a man of music, though, and spent almost all of his four year reign at the military camp where he'd lived before he ruled.
He sang for Pierce's coronation, his wedding, and at every ball thereafter. For the next three years he lived at the castle though he often slipped into the city to play at the taverns for free.
One day the fae sent ambassadors to the king to discuss trade. Among them stood a tall, serene woman with a familiar face. She crossed to Loren and shook her head in wonder.
"So here you are. I watched for you to pass by the forest again. The curse lifted years ago, you know. Why didn't you go home?"
He looked at her and smiled. "Because I am home."
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