Pacing the Bard’s Quarters, Kent Wheelock paused at the window overlooking the Forum Publicos. From this vantage point, he could see the tiny walled courtyard that separated Fintan’s quarters from the forum, as well as the mass of people haggling at the midday market. He could also see the Pissing Puppy Statue where he’d cussed Fintan out the first time they’d met after... You old rat bastard, Kent sighed, turning his back from the forum to continue his short journey to nowhere. Every day for the last two weeks, Celatrix Julianne Verna had plagued him with memorizing Donian rhyme schemes, epic grammar, and ancient idioms. Just thinking of her made his brain ache and his heart long for the far easier life he’d lived on the Gambling Strip, where scrambling for food and shelter were the apex of his intellectual problems. He sighed again, she’ll be here any minute. Get your head on, he shivered at the unintentional thought which brought with it the all too realistic feel of the shovel as it had connected with West’s neck. Throwing his hands to his knees to keep from falling, Kent weaved where he’d bent over. Staring at the maroon rug he suddenly experienced a wave of vertigo that ended with him kneeling on the floor, holding a hand over his mouth. As he was crawling on three limbs in a feeble attempt to make it to the bathroom, his door swung open and Ensign Balin entered.
“Oh, shit,” slipped out of the ensign’s mouth when he saw Kent crawling. Rather than announcing the Celatrix’s arrival as he’d intended, Balin rushed into the room. “Sir?” he asked. With one hand still on his mouth, Kent homed in on the bathroom with his good eye, never slowing his progress. Instantly recognizing the signs of impending vomit, Balin scooped Kent up from under the shoulders, helping the young bard to his feet and shuffling him into the bathroom. He eased Kent onto the floor in front of the toilet—we made it—to pray the porcelain goddess. With Kent awkwardly hanging on the commode, Balin vacated the bathroom and resumed his post in the doorway. Cringing at the horrid sounds echoing out of the bathroom, he called, “Celatrix, if you’ll wait there. He’ll be out in a moment.”
Though an incredibly busy woman, Celatrix Verna had no desire to rush Kent, “tell him to take his time.” She closed the outer door to the Bard’s Quarters and took her now all too familiar foyer seat under a painting of ships sailing the Sovereign Sea. Closing her eyes, she took the few minutes of solitude to really breathe in and out. The last two weeks had taken a great toll on her physical energy levels and while she’d taken the young Bard’s official training upon herself, she knew they were quickly reaching the end of what she could teach him. By tradition, Fintan would have spent years with Kent delving into both the theoretical and practical aspects of their bardic roles. In. She inhaled. Out. She exhaled. Perhaps, she’ll teach him, Celatrix Verna’s mind flashed on the Phoenix Rose. We’ve got to make it through the Historia Fabularis, haven’t we? Her steady inhale-exhale changed to a short exhalation that burst from her nose as she stood up rather too quickly. Fecal! She silently cursed as she closed her eyes and fought to maintain her balance.
Balin reached out a hand to steady her, “Celatrix, please.” His demeanor was all helpful, but his tone hinted at the exasperation he’d momentarily felt at potentially having two invalids on his hands. “Here,” he said attempting to put her back in the chair.
“Young man,” Celatrix Verna scolded, “I’m fine. Thank you.” She crossed the room to the same window that Kent had looked out while pacing. “The light’s perfect,” she muttered to herself, “perhaps we’ll stay here. I don’t think I can negotiate the bogs today.”
“I’m good with that,” Kent said, leaning on the bathroom doorframe and wiping his mouth.
“You don’t look good,” she said.
“I feel great,” he spit. Glowering at her, he added, “you’re one to talk.”
“Pot meet kettle.”
“Don’t call me that,” he growled.
“Uh. Okay,” she stared at him a moment. Knowing that he’d been injured physically and spiritually, she’d maintained her patience. He’d been contrary since they’d met in the Trauma Unit after the funeral, but right now, his tone was quickly approaching sacrilegious. “It’s a saying, ‘the pot calling the kettle black.’”
“I don’t care what it is. I’ve got a name. Use it!”
“Bard Kent,” she bowed, “as you will.”
He rolled his eye, snorted, and stifled a small smile that attempted to curl the corners of his mouth.
Taking that as his cue, Balin interjected, “if you’re staying here today, shall I fetch the Clericus?”
“Yes,” Celatrix Verna responded.
In the hall outside the Bard’s Quarters stood a Ministrae Officer and one of Mercury’s Elite Guardsmen, as well as the duty Clericus who’d assisted during Kaiser Rudolpho’s funeral. Balin opened the outer door and found the trio whispering amongst themselves. He popped his head into the hall, saying, “they’re staying here. Clericus.” He nodded to the guards.
The Clericus adjusted her satchel and cloak around her rotund belly, before squeezing between the door and Balin. She gave him a dirty look which he managed not to notice. Once inside, the Clericus crossed the foyer, glancing at the painting of sailboats. Upon entering the main rooms, she dodged the giant table with a carved wooden statuette of a phoenix entwined with a dragon. Her hip bumped the table anyway. She stopped breathing and froze in place as the statuette rocked back and forth. When it stopped moving, she exhaled and backed slowly away, only coming to a full stop the moment the Celatrix put a hand on her back.
“Set up here,” Celatrix Verna patted the offending table. “Bard Kent, do you recall yesterday’s lesson?”
“Some,” he mumbled.
“In a Gryphon Epic,” she continued over Kent’s moans, “how many parts and how many lines per part?”
“I don’t know,” he answered.
“Could you try, dear?” she asked.
He rubbed his temples, carefully avoiding the area closest to his missing left eye. “Why should I?” Sitting down on the bed, he umphed, and then said, “This piddly ass shit don’t matter.”
“Language,” she warned.
Out of a minor sense of propriety, Kent dropped his head, “apologies.”
“Accepted. Now,” Celatrix Verna said, “we’re not doing this for our health, are we? So,” she pointed to the satchel that the Clericus had placed on the table, “Clericus, it seems the tedious nature of fact memorization has no place in our new Bard’s life. What do you suppose is the solution to teaching him?”
“Uh…” she glanced at the satchel, “cheatsheet?”
“Exactly,” Celatrix Verna said.
As Kent’s head perked up, he tried to nonchalantly look at the women but, with them on his blindside, he ended up swiveling his entire upper body towards them.
“Should I?” the Clericus asked.
“Of course,” Celatrix Verna answered.
The chubby Clericus removed a thin notebook from the satchel. She flipped through several pages, pausing for a moment before continuing to shuffle through the pages. When she found what she was looking for, she removed it from the notebook, placed the sheet on top, and dropped them both on the table. The Phoenix and Dragon statuette wobbled again.
Picking up the sheet, Celatrix Verna crossed the room to where Kent sat on the bed, “we can’t go to war without our Bard singing of the coming victory, reminding us of our history, of our heroes and heroines, and telling our tales as we live and die making them. I know it’s not fair,” she placed a hand on his shoulder, “destiny has made you our Bard. As I understand it, you don’t have to like it. Here,” she handed him the paper.
“What is it?”
“A bit of formula to get you started.”
He stared at the sheet a moment letting his eye focus on the individual letters, and then the words. Reading aloud, “‘One: open with thanks to Mercury, the Phoenix, the Kaiser, and the people—in that order. Two: compare the greatness of any hero with the greatness of the Kaiser. Three: begin the Song of Now. Four: prophesize about the future. Five: conclude with praise of the people, the Kaiser, the Phoenix, and the Muses sent by Mercury.’” He quit reading, his eye narrowed, “you’re kidding me, right?”
“No,” Celatrix Verna stated.
“I had the scribes scour all the written songs. They assure me that while the topics and personage may differ, this is the formula that they all follow.”
“It’s so lame…” he huffed.
“Tradition isn’t lame,” she rebuffed. “One day, when you better understand your importance, you may even appreciate it.”
He didn’t argue, choosing to finish reading the sheet which contained various annotations regarding important persons in the Poterit Don’s recent history. Should I tell her that I flunked 4th grade history? Nah. Holding back his laughter, Kent asked, “what’s the Historia Fabularis? And, why’s it underlined four times?” He flashed the paper to her, pointing at the heavily underlined words.
Snatching the paper out of his hand, Celatrix Verna bit her tongue, barely preventing herself from unleashing a string of foul words. Damn scribes, I told you lot not to label the sections. She flipped the paper over scanning for any other surprises. When she finished, she said, “the Historia Fabularis is the why we’re here.” He looked at her blankly. She continued, “before you can write our songs, you have to sing our history.”
“So, it’s like some kind of fucked up audition?”
Doubtfully, he said, “it sounds like an audition which is test in front of a bunch of strangers. And, that’s fucked up.”
“Oh. Uh,” her brow scrunched, her lips pursed, and she stuttered, “I—I g-guess it is, isn’t it?”
“I don’t wanna write or sing to anyone,” Kent growled, “much less to a damn crowd.”
It hadn’t occurred to her that he’d have stage fright, but by the way he was acting she suddenly understood that the thought of public performance must be plaguing the young man. She tried to reassure him, “we’ll practice beforehand.”
“Practicing here,” he waved a hand, “like that matters.” Balling the paper up, he slammed his fists onto the mattress. Barely able to contain himself, he nearly bit off the Celatrix’s head, “you knew this whole time?” He shook the paper at her, he accused, “this is why you keep cramming poetry down my throat!” Grinding his teeth, his knuckles paled around the crumpled paper. “I’m not doing it!” He chunked the paper, which flopped unsatisfactorily onto the floor. After kicking at it and missing, he fled the room. Shoving by the shocked women, he darted through his foyer and out of the Bard’s Quarters. The suddenly swinging door and escaping Bard, shocked the trio of guards who’d been unprofessionally lounging and chatting about the insanities they’d witnessed or participated in while inebriated. Kent ignored the guards, opting for a quick right, making his way out of the west wing of the Templus de Ambros and into the northern paths leading to the Gryphon’s Gardens. Though he heard the sound of boots stomping after him, he refused to look back. Without knowing where he was headed, he took turns at random. His injured eye and shoulder throbbed with each footfall. Regardless, he ran until he stumbled onto the edge of the roses. At which point he skidded to a halt, suspiciously staring at the innocent flowers. This is where that rose is… He hesitantly stepped up to one of the white rose bushes, touched the silky petals, and bent close to sniff it. When nothing untoward happened, he slapped at the rose, and reassumed his journey deeper into the garden. Just as he’d decided to pick up his pace and run again, the path turned revealing the Phoenix Rose’s sunset rose bush with its golden jeweled crown. The Mercury’s Elite Guardsman, tasked with guarding the Phoenix Rose, immediately came to attention pointing his rifle at the unsuspecting Bard.
“Halt!” the Phoenix’s Merc commanded.
At the same time Balin was yelling, “halt!” at the Phoenix’s Merc, causing Kent to spin around. Slamming into Balin, they both stumbled back a bit, and then stood there staring at the ground between their feet.
Upon recognizing Balin, the Phoenix’s Merc relaxed his stance and resumed his circuit around the rose bush.
“Sir?” Balin asked.
“What?” Kent asked back.
“Where are you going?”
“I don’t know. Anywhere but that damned room,” Kent flung himself away from Balin who followed like a scolded puppy. Coming up to the Phoenix Rose, Kent glared at it as if his eye was a laser and he’d be able to end his troubles in one angry moment. When that didn’t work, he quickly turned back to Balin, “you knew! Don’t try to deny it!”
“Knew what, sir?” Balin asked.
The genuine confusion in the ensign’s voice pushed Kent over the edge. He attempted an about-face, his right toe catching on his left heel. Flinging out his arms to brace himself, he fell into the Phoenix’s guardian who managed to stop the unstable Bard from crushing the Phoenix Rose. In that instant, Kent’s hand brushed the rose bush. The young man cried out, going completely ridged.
Freezing under the strain of sudden dead weight, the Merc held the stiff Bard as Balin rushed over to help alleviate the situation. The two men uncomfortably locked eyes as Kent began to twitch and the Phoenix Rose began to sing.