To begin at the beginning, click on Prologue in the Table of Contents, then on Chapter One, etc.


Taraval despaired – what had he done? Why did this strange lute seem to be playing him, and not the other way around? Was the tandaril wood itself responsible? A single thought gripped him: Only with his lute could he earn the money he needed to continue on his quest, and if he let this audience walk out, no one would ever come back to give him a second chance.

In an instant he vaulted a now empty table, dodged between several retreating backs, and cut off the crowd at the door.

“Hold up!” he cried. “I’m not making fun of you, I swear. It’s a new lute and the strings haven’t been broken in yet. Let me try again, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.”

A roomful of faces looked back at him skeptically, but the surge of movement toward the door stopped.

“I’m still for leaving,” said the cobbler.

“Leave then,” replied a blacksmith, “but I’ll stay. I’ve never heard about having to break in lute strings, but he has pluck, so I’m willing to give him another chance.”

A carpenter grinned. “We came to see some magic; if he can get that lute to play again at all, that will be wonderment enough for me.”

Ripples of laughter broke the tension, and most of the patrons ebbed back from the door and sank again into their seats.

Taraval’s confidence sank with them. He had succeeded in bringing them back, but as the carpenter’s words had reminded him, he still must win the cooperation of his fickle lute, with its quicksilver moods. Before, the crowd had merely threatened to leave. What would they do if he failed this time? He suddenly recalled the warning he had received from a stranger on the road, to avoid Landshut entirely if possible.

At that moment the door of the inn burst open behind him. Taraval turned and almost collided with a husky blond farmer who stalked in leading a pig.

“Hey, Stephen, watch out,” someone called to the newcomer. “Bruno’s here.”

“That’s why I came, to settle this dispute once and for all,” the yellow-haired farmer declared loudly, scanning the room until he locked eyes with Bruno. “Let that misbegotten sot face me.”

Seeing the potential for another kind of entertainment, the few patrons still standing sat down to watch the drama unfold.

Bruno stood up, knocking over his glass of ale. “That pig is mine, and nobody is going to tell me it isn’t,” he slurred. He lurched toward Stephen, shaking his fist.

With a menacing gesture, Stephen started forward, but Taraval, without really thinking about what he was doing, stepped into the farmer’s path.

“Wait!” he shouted. “Let’s hear your argument first. Perhaps there’s a solution that will satisfy both of you.”

“Not me.” Bruno snarled drunkenly. “It’s my pig and I’ll fight any man who says it isn’t!”

“Well, Bruno, let’s hear your side of it then,” Taraval said.

Bruno looked distrustfully at the stranger who had interfered with assumed authority. “What gives you the right to act like a prince in this town?” he challenged. He looked to his table mates for support, but their faces showed they were curious to see what kind of spectacle Taraval’s intervention might produce.

Anger toward his adversary and flattery that the minstrel had given him first chance to speak his piece overcame Bruno’s distrust of the stranger. “All right,” he said, glaring at Stephen, “here’s what happened, God’s truth. That… that thief there stole the pig from me when it was a shoat. See that notch in its ear?” He pointed to the pig, which was busily snuffling up some spilled ail. “That’s my mark.”

“I never said it wasn’t your pig to start with,” countered Stephen, loudly. He turned to Taraval. “Everyone here knows Bruno lets his pigs wander. Well, I took this pig home to him three times, but it kept coming back. I guess it like my slop better than his. It’s grown up and got fat on my feed and now Bruno wants it back without paying me anything for its keep.”

“Why should I pay a thief?” Bruno shouted.

“Wait, Bruno,” Taraval said soothingly. “If what Stephen says is true, it seems to me he has an honest claim.”

Bruno glared at him as if he had been betrayed, while Stephen smiled, his chest puffed out with the pleasure of vindication. “So the pig should be mine, right?” he gloated. Hearing the smugness in Stephen’s voice, Bruno lunged forward, face contorted and fists clenched, but two of his companions grabbed him and pulled him back.

The patrons leaned forward in their seats now, eager to witness the outcome of this controversy that was growing more interesting by the moment. This brash young minstrel might come up with a fair settlement, but they knew Bruno had never compromised for the sake of fairness.

Scanning the patrons’ faces and seeing that they were waiting for him to speak, Taraval took a deep breath and delivered his judgment. “I think you should slaughter the pig and share the meat.”

Bruno reacted as if he’d been stuck with a knife himself.

“Slaughter her!? That pig comes from a line of the best brood sows in this region!” he yelled.

Taraval was unruffled. “Then one of you should keep the pig and the other her first litter,” he said calmly.

There was a general nodding of heads at the justice of Taraval’s pronouncement. Stephen said nothing, but the righteous grin on his face enraged Bruno, who had been pacing about and now stood next to a large bag of flour that rested against the wall by the kitchen door. His face had reddened and sinewy cords stood out on his neck as his mouth worked to form words that wouldn’t come.

Then Stephen, egged on by some of his sympathizers, held up his fist in a victory salute, and when Bruno saw the gesture the anger in him swelled into rage and overflowed. A short man, but powerful, he seized the bag of flour in a single swooping motion and, bellowing like a wounded bull, heaved it at Stephen. The bag hit Stephen’s midsection with a resounding thump and burst open in an explosion of white. Pandemonium followed as, blinded by flurried of flour, some patrons scrambled to safety and others, eager for action, plunged into the fray. A wild brawl ensued, with Bruno, Stephen, and Taraval at the center of it – along with the frantically squealing pig.

Gasping for breath, Taraval managed to untangle himself and the lute from the writhing heap of flour-coated combatants punching, kicking, and pummeling one another.

“Master Taraval, are you all right?” It was Segway, who had been watching the battle from a safe niche behind the half-opened kitchen door.

Taraval nodded, sneezing as he brushed off clouds of flour from his clothing. He checked to be sure the lute was undamaged, wiping a layer of white powder from its surface with his shirt sleeve.

There was a yelp and splintering crunch, then a body came hurtling toward them, followed by pieces of a broken chair. Taraval dodged, pulling Segway with him.

“Please stop them,” shouted the mistress of the inn, who stood nearby, watching the melee in horror.

“I’d try with two of them, but how can I stop a dozen?”

“The lute!” She shouted, eyes wide, repeatedly jabbing a finger at the instrument. “It stopped my cooks from fighting this afternoon!”

Taraval laughed. “You mean this lute that practically got me thrown out of here a short while ago?”

At that moment, several more patrons threw themselves into the brawl and the noise level went up another notch.

Segway spoke close to his ear. “Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to try, master Taraval. You couldn’t make things any worse. “

Taraval sighed. “That is true, Segway,” he said and half expecting another stinging jolk, he laid his hand over the rose carving of the lute’s sound hole. With eyes closed, he silently mouthed the words, “Lute, you came to my aid this afternoon; please be one with me again, for now I badly need your help.”


Post a Comment

<< Home