(Author’s Note: I wrote this scene to introduce two of my minor characters. Though Ronalko and the blue-haired man have somewhat unsettling presences in this short scene, I assure you they are some of my favorite characters in the story. This scene takes place long before the first novel, so I have no problem with including it here. Enjoy!)
P.S. Don’t forget to comment with a thought about the story. Also, if you could mention in your comments any of your favorite lines from a book you’ve read recently (or not so recently) I will enter you into this month’s drawing. See contest details in the recently posted video. Thank you again. Remember, write strong, write long, write on.
The Forbidden Song
Roderick Plodsetter had joined the best band of smugglers sailing the Ndawa sea when he was little more than twenty. The Talon clasps its gold tightly, save for a song which can make the heart feel lightly. He still remembered the iconic words that the master of his previous group of minstrels told to him, before Roderick had set out alone to find the famed band of outlaws, known only as “The Talon.” Now after traveling with the smugglers aboard their lugger for several months, he felt it appropriate to finally begin asking questions which he’d been wondering since first joining up.
“Minstrel!” Ronalko exclaimed, cheerily. He was the ship’s lone barkeep and cook. “Where have you been lad? The boys are thirsty, and we nary a tune. A sin to keep us waiting,” he said, as he poured a slug of whiskey into a heavy-bottomed glass atop his carvel-built bar stand.
Roderick came to join him, greeting some of the men who were also below deck playing cards and belting out drunken, off-key renditions of “Pardon Our Claws,” which Roderick knew to be a popular tune in the south.
“Tell me something, Ronalko,” Roderick said, finding his place on a stool, “what’s with that bloke in the corner?” He motioned towards a masked man sitting at a table alone, sipping a frothless beer. The man wore a dusty Shepard’s smock, and smoked Sabalean weed from a short, cherry pipe that he kept putting under his face mask, as evidenced by the purple smoke around his head. “Dumb bugger never takes off his mask. And I never see him order more’n a single beer.”
“Oh, don’t you mind Jolly Blue,” Ronalko said, chuckling. “He’s a cheerless bastard, oddly enough, and his hair does have a nice shade of blue in it. But a finer smuggler, you’ll never meet. Just don’t get on his bad side.” He peered quickly down at the wooden counter and began wiping up a spot he’d missed with a dirty rag.
“Cold bloke like that? What’s a guy need to do to piss him off?”
Ronalko leaned in close. “Plenty. Hates jokes. Ain’t too fond of women. Oh, and he hates a particular song. I mean, really hates this song.”
The minstrel’s ears perked up. “What song?”
“…Splittin’ Blue Hairs,” the red-haired barkeep whispered.
“Jump back,” he said, utterly shocked. “I used to clean up with that song in Kendoro. Made half me wages there as a lad. Everyone loves that song.”
Roderick wouldn’t hear of such nonsense. The barkeep had to be wrong. This lot hadn’t given him a proper tip in all the time he’d come to sing for them. Song that makes the heart feel lightly my ass. After he’d had his drink that night, he grabbed his lyre and tuned the seasick instrument. He could think of no other song to play that evening. Dumb bastard, he thought. How the hell is a song supposed to piss someone off? He get done dirty by some wench one night in a tavern or something while the song was being played? No matter how Roderick sliced it, there was no way a song about the foolish Kendorian king who got his wife killed and his children mutilated could offend someone. Forget that prick. The boys are gonna love this song. He plucked his lyre in the cheery old key of “C,” and then started to sing:
Now gather round blue-hairs, I’ll sing ye a tale,
Of Queen Vame’s death, and Kendoro’s fail.
King Talon, her man, made a grievous error,
When on, that day, he let str-aaa-ngers near.
Two men with hoods, black as the eee-vening sky,
One man said nothing, the other sp-ouuu-ted a lie.
He wasn’t able to get to all of the good parts of the song, because before he knew what was happening he was grabbed from behind and thrown back onto a table. Several of the ship’s smugglers surrounded him. He knew their faces. Had played their jaunty requests. Yet there was no mercy in their faces as they pinned him in place as he struggled and cried.
“Tried to warn you lad,” called Ronalko from the bar, “forbidden song, that one is.”
Roderick looked up as best as he was able as the blue-haired, smocked fellow approached him and pressed a ruby-hilted dagger to his cheek. The man undid his mask. There on his face were several deep cuts, which had healed horribly, and scarred ugly. Roderick gasped, realizing his fatal error too late.
“You like songs about mutilated children, do ya?” the man’s cold voice asked. “Well then minstrel, write me a song about these cuts then, eh?” He began to carve, as Roderick screamed aloud his terrors. They went unheard—save for the crew’s ears—across the lonely ocean.