The resounding twang of the lute seemed to breathe life into the tavern. Upon the fluttering sounds of lute strings, nearby conversation quietened, like a dimming candle, as it always did when Ella played.
She plucked another two strings, anxiety building as her eyes flicked between the door, which was partly obscured by a swaying patron, and the barkeep, Gregor, who stood behind the bar. The bottles of local ales and exotic concoctions behind him reflected the lantern light. He caught Ella’s gaze as he cleaned a mug with a rag that had seen better days. His fixed stare was full of just one simple word: careful.
She watched as Gregor’s gaze moved to the table beside Ella; there sat Captain Sackle, an intimidating figure even without the usual glinting chainmail armour, sitting with two other off-duty guardsmen. He chuckled into his mug of ale at some unknown joke.
Ella plucked another string, prolonging the sonnet’s introduction for as long as she dared.
“You going to take up space all night or are you going to play?” asked Captain Sackle, throwing her a look of disdain. He drained his mug, crimson liquid spilling onto his greying beard. He didn’t wait for an answer, but resumed his conversation. Nervousness bit at Ella’s insides as bile that burned the back of her throat.
Where is she?
The stone felt cold beneath Ella’s thighs where she perched in her usual spot, inhaling the smell of ale and firewood. She swallowed, moistening her throat as she tried to steady her trembling hands. Then the tavern door opened with a scrape. Her heart leapt.
The cloaked figure sauntered between the patrons before she plopped her thin elbows onto the bar and ordered a lillenfruit ale. Relief flooded through Ella, and she smiled as she tucked some of her red hair behind her ear.
When she played the first few notes the gathering noise, which had resumed when Ella had stopped picking the lute strings, died down once more, save the odd cough or scrape of mug on wood.
The lute strings told a story of great history, fallen gods, and an empire descending into darkness. Ella’s voice seemed to melt away the gloom of the small pub, brightening the cobwebbed corners, filling the hearts of the patrons with faith and hope. The hooded figure at the bar gently tapped her slim, dark fingers on the wood, nodding to the tune. She hadn’t removed her hood, and the fabric rippled as her small chin bobbed, a single strand of midnight-blue hair visible from beneath the fabric.
“Through our fractured faith,
Evil and darkness reigned
Then, to save us,
The Dragons came.
Yuelif of the northern lands,
Lifa guards the southern sands
Eastern Dragon, Kelten, reigns
Brave Parrax of the western straits.
Bravely, the Dragons fought
The wicked Darkma plague
But evil did endure;
Parrax fell to their dark blades.
The Dragons paid the price
When we forgot who we are,
Parrax’s soul ascended,
Now she watches from afar.
We must regain our faith
Pray to the Dragonstone
And remember the four Dragons
Without them, we are alone
Now the Mages guide us
Strong, our faith will burn,
Waiting for the day
The Dragon Gods return.”
As Ella strung the final few notes, the buzz of conversation resumed as a few nearby regulars clapped. A few of them rose to deposit coins into her upturned hat, where they landed with a jingle. When the small crowd dispersed, the bard glanced back over at the bar, but the hooded girl was gone.