The knowing bard slipped into town, wearing a cloak of moonlight and a secret-filled hood. He took a small stage near the summer green’s market and lent his lute and voice to ease the oppressive heat.
No one knows that I heard him sing.
Sometimes I don a mob cap and borrowed cape and sneak out through the kitchens, escaping to the cobble-stoned paradise of the open streets—free to sample the wares of the baker’s stall or to peruse the ribbons at the millinery or just to watch the sea of people stream past: the highborns, the farmers, and all in between, the teeming masses of life in all its everyday splendor.
These sights and scents are denied to me by parents with too keen a sense for what is proper for a maiden of my royal station. I am isolated, protected, preserved.
But I starve for news! For a sense of inclusion, a chance to feel like a part of this kingdom—rather than one of its knick-knacks, a wide-eyed doll in a crystal case, seen but not heard: a caged bird that has been denied voice.
I stood in the shadows beneath the flower stand’s awning and watched the minstrel tune his mandolin. His long slender fingers and deft touch matched the wit in his eyes and his lightning-strike smile. He winked when he saw me peering through the daisy wreathes.
I thought I’d save the moment for a future daydream, a golden peach treasure to savor in long lingering bites when I returned to my maids and my tutors. I’d sip at the sweet nectar of a stolen smile from a pass-through minstrel and pretend the next suitor has his eyes.
When he sang, my world shook on its careful foundation.
The knowing bard sang of a storm that is brewing: discontent clouds amassing on the horizon, swollen thunderheads eager to pour out their frustrations on a land that’s been dry for far too long.
The knowing bard sang of treacherous winds that carried tales of sunshine-filled lands and bountiful harvests back to the jealous clouds who longed for a new victim. These double-dealing winds returned with temperate climes and soft breezes, lies of omission, all.
The knowing bard sang of birds that soared on swift wings: eagle-eyed watchers scanning for prey, picking off the slow, the unwary. They feasted on the straying fawn’s flesh and counted the days until they brought down the herd.
The knowing bard sought my eyes again—a moment of connection—and somehow I knew this storm wouldn’t bring rain. A flood of wretched pain surges outside kingdom walls and the sleet-sharpened sting of arrows will fall. Serenity’s age is at its end.
None in his audience person gasped in horror, no one. Not a single cry out that the Troubles will return. The farmers smiled at the thought of rain and the townsfolk mused about washed-down streets. They all heard the bard’s song and hoped for the deluge.
I was the only one who heard the hidden message, the secrets he brought from outside our walls, the warnings about enemies and thievery and war.
And I am the only one who could do nothing about it—I’m a gatecrasher, my defiance akin to treason. I have no voice. No one can know I heard him sing.
I’ll pray his songs reach the notice of my father, the king. Someone must hear the intelligence the knowing bard risked his life to compose. Surely a guard or a secretary or a plowman with sense will raise the alarm that the shadows again draw near—
It cannot be me. I am to be seen but not heard. I must hide at the edge of the work-wearied crowd and let the mugs of heady ale pass by so I can listen with clear head and troubled heart, all the while scanning the skies for signs of the summer’s end.
Pushcart Prize nominee Ash Krafton’s work has appeared in Absent Willow Review, Mad Scientist Journal, Expanded Horizons, Silver Blade, and Bete Noire. She’s also the author of novel-length fiction, including the Demimonde trilogy as well as The Heartbeat Thief (under the pen name AJ Krafton). She’s a member of SFPA and resides in the heart of the Pennsylvania coal region with her family and bossy German Shepherd dog.
Image by Hans