A Night at the Dancing Dolphin (pt. 3) (2000)

Well my friends, I shall not bore you with the mundane details of their trading, though Ailea did indeed ramble on about it. Suffice to say, Ailea and Hasic came to an agreement concerning the disposition of the Cuaha goods. And Eian shadowed her out of the rickety shack. Meanwhile, I happened to be coming back here after trading tales with some grizzled old sailors in the Wharf when I encountered Ailea and Eian outside Hasic’s, a meeting that began rather inauspiciously to say the least.

You see, I was strolling along one of the streets – I shant name which one in order to protect my friend Hasic who perhaps has unfounded fears that openly dealing the Nomads will hurt his business. Anyway, I was planning to pass through the Temple District before coming here to the Dancing Dolphin to prepare for the evening. So, as I strolled along, I allowed my mind to wander along the sea-paths of sea monsters and merfolk, of storms and pirate ships that the sailors in the Craven Cod, a rowdy and dim place I might add, had boasted of seeing. You might say I was wool gathering. With no offense to you, my good shepherd friend!

In any case, the next thing I knew I was lying atop a man, something hard was pressed uncomfortably into my gut, and there were sounds of feet backing away. Then a rough pair of hands were against my shoulders and I was rolled onto my back there on the hard and rough cobble.

But then something inside me took over and my legs kicked up. I rolled back up to my feet and dropped into one of the defensive crouches the Hyranins had taught me long ago. My body waited tensely, in anticipation of a blow. There were two assailants. The man I had run into only came to my eye level, but obviously bore the well-honed muscles of one who had spent his life climbing and hauling on stout ropes. In our collision I had felt the hardness of his frame, while my gaze had also noted with alarm the grimace of determination upon his sun browned chiseled face.

Then my attention slid to the young lady. She was obviously his companion, for they were clad in similar blues, greens and reds, unlike the drab brown and white of most of the inhabitants of this city. Moreover, both had soft red-dyed buskins, loose pants the color of the evening sky, billowy shirts the shade of the robes of Elren’s priesthood, and pale green head coverings. Gold rings glinted from their ears.

I bowed deeply to the young lady, doffing my plumed cap, and turned to the gentleman who was reaching for the dirk whose pommel had dug into my side earlier.

‘My most humble and sincere apologies, my good sir,’ I said choosing quickly to remain tactful rather than antagonistic, since there seemed to be no point in being the cause of a street brawl let alone its primary casualty. ‘I really must watch where I place my feet, mustn’t I?’

Then the man’s grimace turned slowly into a look of mild confusion, while the young lady hid a smile behind her hand. Inwardly I heaved a great sigh of relief. ‘Allow me to make amends good gentles,’ I continued, ‘ I am Taran Red, a teller of tales, singer of stories, magician of myths, learner of – Well, I am certain you get the point. And surely, Lady and Sir, it would far more behoove you to share a drink at my expense rather than sheathe that double hand span of steel in my poor humble unworthy flesh.’

Well, the young lady laughed aloud – quietly, but aloud nonetheless – and placed a hand on the man’s arm. ‘Let us join this man, friend,’ she said whilst still attempting to conceal her amusement. ‘We still have a long period to pass before Hasic can take our goods. And it would make for a good tale later.’

The man shrugged. Meanwhile, the young lady took my arm. ‘I am Ailea Irquea of Clan Vlant, my good Taran the Red,’ she said, ‘My companion is my guard while I am in the city, so you must excuse his behavior. He is assigned with the task of ensuring that I come to no harm.’

My hand waved dismissively. ‘Not at all, Mistress Irquea. The fault is entirely mine. No harm has come of it.’

Then I led them into the Bay District, toward this very establishment. As I am sure all of you know, the distinction between the Wharf and the Bay District does not occur all at once, not, say, as the shift from the Breakers to the Wharf does, where one moment you scurry about your way among the dregs of society and the next moment you start to walk between storehouses, inns, and sailors. Here, the buildings only gradually shift into those of better construction and increased cleanliness, while the rotting fish stench of the Wharf fades to a mere background tingling of the nose. It was certainly a new experience for my companions. I could tell by the way their eyes ran over the homes and taverns of this district that they had never been so far into the city before, that they had no idea such a place even existed.

Soon enough, we came upon the familiar sign of the Dancing Dolphin. I gestured for my guests to enter and look around. As I in turn watched them, I noted that neither appeared to be overly astounded by the decoration so much as they were amazed to see that not all structures in Demelldivan were like those of the Wharf – that is, boxy and stout, weathered by the salty winds off the Bay of Verix, built to withstand the harsh storms of the early planting season.

Lena there, though much younger then of course, took my guests to some very nice seats in the back, where I joined them a short time later after giving Marn our bartender a double handful of coppers; for, alas, though my drinks are free of charge, those of my guests are not! So, I subsequently joined them with three mugs of the finest Zargonin ale to be had in human lands.

When the guard waved his aside, I smiled, acknowledging not just his wisdom in refusing to imbibe (the Hyranins who raised me have a similar prohibition against drink when protecting the person of another) but also because I realized there was all the more for the lady and me.

Thence, after raising a toast in honor of my guests, I suggested a tale for their enjoyment. And, at Ailea’s nod of approval, I began with the Tale of Indrisial Rochonbethreth. This, my friends, is that tale:

“Every artisan, whether they be painter, sculptor, armourer, singer, or weaver of words, puts a part of him or herself into everything they make. A little part of the artist’s being, or soul if you will, comes to inhabit the product of their labor. This of course leaves an empty space in the artist which is refilled by the knowledge that the work will be appreciated and cared for.

But there are a few exceptionally gifted artisans, perhaps but one or two in any given lifetime, who are able to will a larger part of themselves into their work. The artworks these gifted few create are precious beyond measure. In fact, they are loathe to part with their artistic fruits and instead tend to keep such an item to themselves because of the potency of emotion and self they have fed into it. For a piece that one of these gifted few pours his soul into is exceptionally special in one way or another. Indrisial Rochonbethreth – or Indris as many knew her – was one of these gifted people. Indris came to Demelldivan from the Vethiani people of the Elven Nations. By the standards of her people, Indris was more or less of an average appearance, neither too pretty nor too unappealing to the eyes. Moreover, she was no taller or shorter than you or I, though we would seem clumsy and loutish beside her. Her delicately pointed ears peeked out from the sea of her wavy sandy blonde hair, while the quiet dignity of the ancient Elven forest resided within her deep green eyes. But, although to the Elves her appearance seemed normal, all people of all races agreed that she had a voice to rival the very gods. It was said that when she sang in the forest all grew silent, and the trees would stand still even amidst the most raging storm so as not to mar the purity and beauty of her voice. When she sang in the city, people swore the very buildings leaned toward her, and it is even rumored that in order to hear her singing as she walked by all activity in the Market District paused and the priests and priestesses in the Temple District fell silent in mid-prayer.

In fact, she sang in this very inn once, in her later years. When she did, and I gather this was a common occurrence everywhere she sang, everyone in the crowd saw the same image of the legendary heroes Elwyd and Oulna as they brought about the peace between Elves and Dragons many scores of centuries ago. Now, I know, you say it is hardly uncommon to see the images of a song or a story in your head. Everyone does, you say. But the same exact picture? Well, you see my point.

One day, deep in winter, late in Indris’ centuries long life, when the snow lay so deep that a man could stand his sword in the snow point first and be unable to see the pommel, the fair Indris was whiling away the day. She had been humming an Elven work song so ancient that the race of Man had yet to tame beasts and cultivate the fields when it was first sung. In fact, the song – even only hummed – had served its purpose for Indris so well that as the sun reached its greatest height in the sky the songstress looked around her modest dwelling in the Market District (she refused to live amongst her people for reasons of her own, yet could not bear to be overly far away from them) and found that all domestic tasks had been finished. There was plenty of wood inside, the two rooms had been swept, everything was as clean as it could get. She had a small pile of swept up dirt, hair, cobwebs, and that dust that breeds in the dark corners of a room. So, the lovely Indris fixed herself a mug of aleaní – an exceptionally invigorating Elven tea whose contents no non-Vethiani can know for the Elven people keep the secret well hidden – and sat before her fire, reclining peacefully upon a plain divan of fluted Elven design fashioned by our very own Alinelae in the Elven Quarter.

Now, when I say this occurs in Indris’ later days, you mustn’t think of her as appearing aged as humans do. For Elves age, especially the Vethiani, not at all to the eyes of Man. Indeed, to the rest of us mortals, a full blooded Elf in his or her prime appears no different than one who shall slip beyond the worries of life on the morrow. They claim to be able to tell the difference, but, my friends, may Langelr, Lord of Storms, strike me now if I can tell the two apart.

But, to return to the tale, Indris sat before her fire with her leather mug of aleaní, occasionally feeding the flame as its vigor flagged. And the shadows grew ever stronger and asserted their presence over the streets and dwellings of the city. And yet Indris still sat, smiling faintly and humming a tune of her own creation that seemed to rise and fall of its own accord.

Then, when the insolence of the shadows came to know no bounds, spreading their sable cloak of darkness over the whole of the city, Indris’ clear voice finally broke through the night as no mere light could possibly achieve. The song that had been building within her for the whole of that day leapt forth as a startled hart. Somehow her harp, fashioned of the finest aesay wood from the Nations (not the homegrown aesay one sees in the Elven Quarter here) had appeared in her hands and its clear tones now lent even more strength to her eventide song.

And she sang a glorious eventide song, marked with the poignancy of hope. She sang of the various murals of vert that play along the forest floor as the sun tries to pierce the sylvan canopy. She sang of the wild wolf, grey-brown fur rippling in anticipation as his pack tracks the deer. She sang of the squirrels amassing their hoardings and chasing their fellow bushy tailed chatterers up and down the majestic trees, and of the aging bear, a mountain of fur and muscle, rippling through the vast halls of trees.

Then, three tolls of the bell later, all who lived near Indris were weeping uncontrollably. Indris herself had closed her eyes, and her hands slipped from the harp. Yet, the harp seemed to continue to pluck itself to her song.

She sang of the seed in the ground and its struggle to the surface, the shoot stretching to touch the life-giving sun. And she sang of that same tree centuries later as it fought to remain standing, as it battled against the growing hollowness that filled and consumed it, then finally succumbing and falling to the earth. Then, she sang of the hope for new life the dead tree provided as the mosses and mushrooms fed upon it, as other young shoots vied to take the tenacious trunk’s place.

Come the roseate fingers of dawn, those who lived nearest Indris marveled, for it seemed that the snow was slowly melting away. And Indris’ song yet endured, and those near her home were joined by others from other streets in weeping for the song’s beauty.

She sang of the change of the trees from their green silk raiment to flaming red and orange cloaks. She sang of grumbling bears seeking out warm dry caves. She sang of frantic squirrels running through the branches and along the leaf strewn ground. She sang of deer cropping the waxy underbrush for want of other food. She sang the cries of the hunting hawk and the squawk of crows defending their territory murderously.

All through the day Indris sang. And as night fell once more upon the city, the people were in awe for they beheld light and warmth of every imaginable color in Indris’ dwelling. And then through the next evening the song still continued, and still the listeners wept.

Now Indrisial sang of the ice descending upon the land. She sang of the first snowfall, and the second and the third. She sang of the sleeping creatures snug in their holes. She sang of the snowflakes settling on the leaves and on the horns of the proud stag. She sang of the sleeping spirits of the trees settled deep within the trunks. And she sang of the seeds deep beneath the ground, ready to struggle forth.

But as the midnight bell tolled at the Baron’s palace, the song trailed off into silence. The people fell into a deep sleep, such as had never before come to the people of this bustling city.

But as soon as day broke over the Bay of Verix, Haden Smith, who lived next to Indris, trudged out to see her, moving easily through the snow that had returned to falling on the land as the final notes of Indris’ song of many days had finally melted away. Haden knocked loudly on her door, but received no reply, and when he managed to open the door his jaw immediately dropped. The entire front room was awash with greenery. Small trees stood laden with songbirds. Sunlight streamed from on high. A large brown and grey squirrel ran across his feet, its eyes focused intently upon a huge nut the likes of which he hadn’t seen since before his days in Demelldivan when he had passed through the forests of the North which are said to have been ancient even before the days of man. But of Indris he saw no sign. Haden searched both rooms, startling many of the birds and the small furry creatures, even a reddish-orange fox. But even so, he found no sign of the Elven woman, save her harp of the finest aesay wood strung with thin strings that were rumored to never break.

But, in the course of the next few days even the walls of Indris’ dwelling faded, even the fireplace and door disappeared. Some say the trees and brush grew over the divan and table, absorbed the bed and walls. Others claim that the walls and other man-made things just faded over time. The site of Indris’ final song became known to all in Demelldivan as the Garden of Indrisial Rochonbethreth.

Haden took care of Indris’ harp which, after a time, he stood upon a pedestal in the Garden, where it has sat for the past three score and six years. Later Haden had a covering fashioned by a friend to protect Indris’ harp from the elements. Nowadays, this covering and the pedestal it stands above are said to be the only things made of man that the Garden of Indrisial Rochonbethreth suffers to allow within its bounds. And now, many pilgrims make their way from the Elven Nations, from Covince and even Alyinhicé far to the west across the Inner Sea, to view this abiding testament to Indrisial’s song.”

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