Chapter 6:

The Ritardando

An Old Friend's Final Request

Eena sat at the desk in her room, which was still devoid of any decorations save for the singular book she borrowed from Gotthard's library. The book contained, not the silly romance stories she once found so endearing, but the calculated ramblings of Gotthard's research. She methodically read through the notes, jotting down what she thought to be important which ended up being most everything. She was bored, that much was obvious, but she's determined to learn every thing about magic she possibly can. Well, she would be bored if she wasn't annoyed.

The Sun was far off to the North-West leaving the entire kingdom of Getlvania in night. Normally, this would mean the only sounds in the cottage is Gertrude moaning and her bed rhythmically creaking. Along with Adam's name being cried out and the occasional series of naughty words. Eena, despite having admittedly thin walls, never minded their nightly performance. She even thought it was 'cute' how they could still have as much fun as they do.
Gertrude, however, is not here.

Gertrude was off with Gotthard in the nearest town gathering extra food in preparation for winter. A couple days journey by horse, which Gotthard refused to own or use. Gotthard only went along to ensure she wouldn't die along the way. There were many spirits along the path after all.
No, Eena was annoyed by the same chord on the lute being played again and again and again, each time with only very slight variations. She decided that she had enough and would confront the issue.

Guided by moonlight, she rounded the corner of the cottage careful not to step on any of Gertrude's plants. Sat on the rim of our old forge was the source of her annoyance. "Hail Yaleena. I see even you couldn't resist the allure of such a wonderful night."

Face unchanging she said, "It would be, if you would play a different song."

Adam laughed nervously since this was the first time Yaleena had said anything to him. "Sorry about that. You only have to put up with it while Gertrude is away, so please bear with it for now."

Eena raised an eyebrow. "What are you doing that requires miss Gertrude be away?"

With a strum of his lute, "Writing new songs. I don't come across many other bards up here you know?"

She shrugged. "What's the point? Aren't the songs you know good enough?"

"Sure. She could never get bored of hearing the same songs I've known for years."
He strummed his lute weakly. "This is all I have you know? I can't cook. I can barely take care of the plants. Never did learn to read or write. There's no way I could ever hope to do even a bit of that magic hogwash. I can hunt, but what guy in Getlvania can't?"
He replayed the chord. "No. If this is all I can do, I might as well become the best at it, right? Besides, this is my way of keeping Gertrude trapped in my web of love."

A question Eena regretted instantly.

Adam eagerly readjusted himself on the forge and spoke with enthusiasm. "She was a member of nobility, you know? Hated people and hated peasants more. I happen to be both. And although many of her suitors attempted to woo her with song, I knew something they didn't. She loves animals. Especially birds. I mastered birdsongs with the flute, secretly played for her every day and night, got caught and sent to her family's dungeons."

Even I'm interested now. Eena sighed knowing this would take a while.
'Maybe if he talks himself out he'll get tired and go to bed.'

He stood up, now acting the events out with his lute. "They threw me in the dungeons and interrogated me thinking I meant to harm the house. I suppose that's what I ended up doing anyway. But all I would say was 'Bring me a flute, and I'll prepare new birdsong. Just for you.' As I suspected, they gossiped and word reached my lovely Gertrude. She came to me with a flute and I wooed her."
With an exaggerated flutter of the lute, he sat back on the forge. "So. The least I could do is keep creating new birdsongs for my precious chickadee."

'... That was actually really cute.'
Eena sighed again. "Fine, fine. What must be done for you to cease your annoying song?"

He looked down at his lute and once again played the chord out of habit. "I'm trying to write a slower song for once, but I guess I'm not very good at it. I don't suppose you know any music?"

She shook her head. "No, but my best friend does... Did. She always wanted to be our town's jarcoban songstress. She would always have the most enchanting howls."

"Jarcoban? That's the race of those canine folk right? Wait here. That gives me an idea."
Adam ran into the cottage and returned a short while later with a dulcimer. He laid the box across his lap, the metallic strings running over it glistening in the moon light. With the thin hammers he tapped the strings, testing the tune.
After a few adjustments he began playing in earnest. Each tap of the strings like the ring of a wonderful bell reverberating into the empty night sky. With his chosen melody, he began to hum the harmonies.
The song he was creating before her eyes was surprisingly uplifting for being such a melodious tune, until he smacked both hammers on the bass string. A low resounding ring hung in the air until he began playing a hardly recognizable, depressed version of the melody. Ever so gradually, he began adding extra bits and pieces to melody without changing the base sound. Ever so gradually, the song returned to its original mood without once changing the depressing melody underneath.

When he was done, he placed the hammers across the strings and looked up at Eena. "Sorry. I had to give it a happy ending. I can't stand tragedy. What kind of bard am I? An entire ballad without a single lyric."

Eena looked surprised. "A ballad? What's the story?"

He began to lightly play the song again. "A wolf is born, bringing the pack together using her song. That was the humming. Everything goes well, until she loses everything. As she lives her life though, things begin to go well again. Of course, she never forgets her tragedy, that's why the melody stays the same, see? But. She eventually achieves her dream."
He stops playing and looks at Eena. "Obviously I haven't worked out all the details, but that's the gist. What was your friend's name? I'll name this song after her."

Eena sways between upset, furious, and relieved. He doesn't understand anything. He just assumes he knows what her life has been like, what her friend's life was. That the pain of losing everything is just something you can overcome with a bit of music! On the other hand though, he's trying to do a nice thing. If he had suggested the song be named after Eena, she would've certainly punched him across his stupid face. But...
"Her name was Jahoo. And change one thing. She didn't have an easy life. Her parents resented her, and she hardly had enough to eat."

He only smiled. "Of course. Jahoo, huh? A pretty name. I'll let you know once it's done. And maybe you can help me write out the sheet music so when I play it in towns, other bards might pick it up. Your friend may become the songstress of a town just yet. Though this probably isn't what you two pictured was it?"
He laughed nervously waiting for Eena's answer.

'He... He's trying to complete Jahoo's dream?'
"S-sure. That sounds acceptable."