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Upstaging - a bard's tales. [Journal]

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"...and my appreciation to you, lass, for the fine introduction, but I'm still going to get back to you about that other introduction that didn't quite go so well..."


It took a little effort for the tall Highlander to duck the damp towel, such that his long hair and even the crisply-maintained beard flowed with the speed of the motion, but the tossed rag disappeared behind him and behind the chandelier-lit wooden corner stage, to fall behind it and dwell with whatever other discarded items the accumulation of time might be hiding back there.


"Thank you, love, though that wasn't exactly the sort of linens I'd hoped you'd be tossing!"


He was sitting upright once more in a hurry, perched on the purloined barstool that was the only furniture on the little tavern's performance stage.


"Right, then, and another good evenin' to you, fellows and femmes, may your purses be as big and open as your hearts and your joys even bigger. I can already see that we have a room full of wandering eyes and wandering hearts, and what is a bard if he can't see them at a moment's glance? No doubt, some of you are hoping to find beds and hands not your own to see you through this lovely night, so I'll open up a bit with a word o' caution, especially for you other fellows out there who might end up ducking tossed items such as I just have."


He adjusted himself on the stool, sitting erect, and cradled in his hands the ornately-crafted lute that had hung at his side. A moment passed in which he caresses the strings as if they were a lover's bodice, but he cleared his throat, strummed a bass note to set the mood, and filled the room with his voice again, accompanied by a rollicking, fast tempoed gift from the instrument.


"Come all ye tender hearts, unto me pay your attention:

Beware that villain Love, for she's a demon's own invention

For I once fell into it for a Roe-maid so bewitching:

Miss Morning Mist, a serving maid in Aleport's finest kitchen."


Though she be fair of face, and you might love her like no other,

Beware her machinations, lest you end up in a gutter.."


The singing and tempo lulled, and the Highlander grinned foxlike at the audience. "I can already see the maids ready to bean me with bottles. Squeeze them tight, lads, for it gets only worse from here!"


"At sixteen tender years, I was attunin' to my strings,

'Twas middling far from the corner bar where Mist served tasty things

I paid her such attentions that had left her eyelids twitchin'

And so we snuck in back to have a tryst within the kitchen.


"Though she be fair of face, and you might love her like no other,

Beware her machinations, lest you end up in a gutter.."


"A blessed blissful week passed, when we frolicked every night

I was a-falling quickly, and she had my heart locked tight

She said she was no wife, though she might have been a wishin'

So I hadn't any dread of what might find us in the kitchen"


"Though she be fair of face, and you might love her like no other,

Beware her machinations, lest you end up in a gutter.."


The singing paused once more, long enough for the bard to offer a basso chuckle. "This is always the part where it gets mucked up, no?" He waggled his brows, and continued.


"With hand upon my mast, she told me how she did adore me

When the sound of splintered wood became a first and only warning

The Misty eyes turned hateful, and her voice went to a spittin'

About how I dared to set upon a maid within her kitchen!"


"Though she be fair of face, and you might love her like no other,

Beware her machinations, lest you end up in a gutter.."


"For inward stomped a Roegadyn of muscles broad and massive

The veins upon his forehead showed him anything but passive

And though I'd been aroused, and fully naked in condition

The smarter parts within me sent me scamp'ring from the kitchen."


"Though she be fair of face, and you might love her like no other,

Beware her machinations, lest you end up in a gutter.."


"The truth was as you'd guess it, she'd already had a man

Whose ire could crush ingots with a squeeze of either hand

She shouted of her innocence, and damned me to perdition

And I never did return to claim more courtin' from her kitchen!"


"Though she was fair of face, and I had turned her like no other,

To this day, her beau would like to stuff me in a gutter.."


The song reached its crescendo, and he topped it off with a rapid staccato plucking before bringing the instrument to stillness.


"And so to this day, lords and ladies, I seldom believe a woman's tale that I am the only one, and it has yet sufficed me to be but her only one Right Now."


He dipped his head, and waited for the crowd to still somewhat before planning the next offering.

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(For Coraliza, Lilithium and all the attendants of the pilgrimage of Thal)


It was probably a good thing that the rooms at The Mizzenmast were thick and well insulated from sound. Certainly, prior occupants of the room had likely been thoroughly romantic and frantic about it - the bard was sure he might find scratches on the floor around the bedposts, if he really looked - but this time, perhaps for once in the room's use, the noise from which adjoining rooms were shielded was not of the ebullient physical variety, but from the deep voice and rather untuned and cacophonous sounds of the lute.


Nathan kicked back on the bed, crossed his knees, and tightened the strings on the instrument, as he'd been doing for the past hour, each twist and pull accompanied by a scrunched face.


He huffed, and strummed out a few test notes, and words tumbled forth almost unbidden from his mouth.


"Violet eyes... burning like fire....

Violet eyes... smoldering in the dusk..."


He stilled the strings and shook his head. "No, that one would put the whole room in the wrong sort of tears..." A further strum was of a lower register, as were his lyrics.


"Lass, I get so lost, sometimes

Days pass, and aching fills my heart

I want to ride away, to some place very far

But every path I take has me returning where you are


All my longings, they return

and the wanderlust, does naught but burn

Without a pause and without pride,

I reach out from the inside...


In your eyes..."


His jaw began to ache, and he clamped hard on the stem of the instrument, stilling the strings, and bringing a moment of pure quiet into the room. "Hells, man, a few pleasant nights, and you're turning out worse than your audience!" He laughed off the tension, and took a few moments of foot tapping before shaking his head, and strumming a mid-ranged chord.


"Pickpocket got caught, last night at the inn

She bumped into a lady, who was fair and thin

And in a simple twist and grab

The little scavenger girl was nabbed

And got sent right out the door

Into the streets once more..."


Fingers stilled the strings again. "Nah... I'm not sure the lady would appreciate it being outed that she could probably snap limbs if she wanted. Save that one."


He drummed his fingers on the fine wood of the lute, and traced the grain idly. "Now, what was that little ditty I had churning during the pilgrim performance, before the night was swept away... Ah!"


He reset his fingers on the strings, and plucked a high note, leading into a fast-tempoed melody, a counterpart to his deep voice as the muse returned to him.


It was an Umbral moon, and it would be soon

That the wanderers set forth

There were wagons as far as a man could see

Come down from the frigid north

With intent to portray a new play each day

The performers had gathered tight

And I said to myself, as the train converged,

"We're about to own the night."


Cause we got a mighty caravan

Sliding through the night

Yeah, we got a powerful caravan

And ain't it a marvelous sight?

Come and join our caravan

And nothin' gonna get in our way

Gonna drive this churnin' caravan

Until we stop for another play...



By the time we got to Camp Dragonhead

We had eighty-five wagons in all

But the drakes were lining up on the hills

Like a writhing, scaly wall

Yeah, the lizards were thick as bees in a swarm

And more were droppin' in from the air

But a cry rang loud from the travelin' crowd:

"Come and get us if you dare!"


Cause we got a mighty caravan

Sliding through the night

Yeah, we got a powerful caravan

And ain't it a marvelous sight?

Come and join our caravan

And nothin' gonna get in our way

Gonna drive this churnin' caravan

Until we stop for another play...



Well, the wagon masters drove the Chocobos on

Just as fast as their legs could move

And the lancers and the archers

Offered up some points to prove

By the time we hit the border

Those lizards were in a rage

Cause we were droppin' 'em like hunted ducks

Thanks to steel and an angry mage

But the stars were all gettin' blotted out

By wings of massive size

Yeah, the Coerthas air was full o' wyrms

and the dragons ruled the skies

So we hunkered down and went for broke

'Cause there weren't no time for words

You could hear the squawks for miles around

As the drivers lashed on their birds


Cause we got a mighty caravan

Sliding through the night

Yeah, we got a powerful caravan

And ain't it a marvelous sight?

Come and join our caravan

And nothin' gonna get in our way

Gonna drive this churnin' caravan

Until we stop for another play...



We crossed the line two bells from dawn

A-headin' into the Shroud

The bridge ahead was lined with drakes

And their shrieks were mighty loud

But the wagon master tipped back her hat, and said

"We ain't stoppin' for lizards tonight!

We got enough doughty fighters here

To take Uldah in a fight! Attack!"


Cause we got a mighty caravan

Sliding through the night

Yeah, we got a powerful caravan

And ain't it a marvelous sight?

Come and join our caravan

And nothin' gonna get in our way

Gonna drive this churnin' caravan

Until we stop for another play...


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The ditch was muddy, and smelled of orobon guts and the slight dank of lower areas in the Shroud, but it was well-hidden, and far enough from Buscarron's place to give him a chance to breathe, which he did, in large gulps of air.


He set his back against the rockface there. He probably could have handled Spenser, though the man hit like a truck when he was drunk, but the dozen angry Red Wasps were another story. Thirteen was an unlucky number, anyway, and Buscarron would never even consider allowing the bard back to the Druthers if Nathan had stayed to pull the whole establishment into a massive brawl over one song.


Outlaws, no sense of humor. He looked down, and shook his head. It was going to take hours to get the mud out of his boots and the smell of ale out of his tunic.


*20 minutes earlier*


Nathan Telluride, itinerant bard, leaned back into the corner at Buscarron's Druthers, where the proprietor had given him leave to play a few tunes for a night's food and lodging. He bowed his head to a rough crowd - the sort that respected Buscarron ten times more than they liked each other - and patted his prized possession, his custom-made lute.


"This is one that pulled a laugh from the bonny pirates at the Drowning Wench in Limsa Lominsa, gathered gentles, and I think you might get a good chuckle out of it yourselves."


The song had a jumping tempo, the sort that was meant to get a roomful of travelers tapping toes:



"Oh what a friend we have in Bahamut

He cares about us all equally...

If you see him, you'll be fried

Just as a million others died

He'll burn your eyes out so you cannot see


I had lost my lady fair and my chocobo

And every breath I took felt like a curse

Then I thought how I could die

Cooked by fire from the sky

And remembered life could be much worse.


Just how big a friend is Bahamut?

He's unlike any chum you've ever known

He's larger than a keep, and you'll have no time to weep

Before he sears your flesh and blood clean from your bones


Now deep within his prison in Dalamud

The dragon slumbers waiting for his hour

When he bursts forth from the moon, which we know he will do soon

He will spread his wings and show our world his power


He'll end all of your problems in a moment

Even if you are a pauper and lovelorn

From your debt and slavery

He will come to set you free

When the cataclysm is reborn


So if you can, make friends with Bahamut

Before he strips the world of all its life

When you see him, you'll be cooked

Ere you get one final look

And he'll grant us liberation from our strife


So, what a friend we have in Bahamut

He cares about us all equally

If you see him, you'll be fried

Just as a million others died

And he'll burn your eyes out so you cannot...

Sear your eyes out so you cannot...

Fry your eyes out so you cannot see."


((with apologies to the Gulf Coast's most incredible mad-science rock band: The Consortium of Genius: COG: What A Friend We Have In Cthulhu ))

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The clatter and scrape of tables at the Drowning Wench had passed but half a bell ago, though the murmurs and guffaws and languid sighs of the remaining patrons, pirates and workers and the occasional brave bookworm alike, still filtered through the stairwells at the Mizzenmast, and could still be heard as a faint hum through the slightly-opened door to the room in which reclined the bard that had played for them not so long ago in the evening.


A near silent pit-pat of soft feet made its way through the door's inviting openness.


Nathan was sitting up in the bed, lute across his lap, his tunic half-open and his travel breeches still shut; his right foot was propped upon a pair of the inn's rough pillows, wrapped in cold linens. He rubbed the arch and heel for a moment, and sank to the bed, hands reaching for his signature lute, when a flash of orange and yellow caught his eye. He blinked - a Coeurl kitten, hardly old enough to be away from its litter, had come to perch upon the corner of the bed, and watched him, whiskers flicking and tail perked.


He simply watched the little creature for a moment; it paused to lick its flanks, apparently eager to show its nonchalance in the way of most felines everywhere, but then curled its tail around itself, and met the large long-haired Highlander gaze for gaze.


He grinned, and made a noise partway between chuckle and harrumph. "What is it with your people, anyway?"


He dragged a pair of fingers over the still strings of the lute, not plying enough pressure to set them vibrating. The kit licked its chops, but did not turn away.


"Fine, not your people precisely, but in that direction. How the hell can those Toms handle it? Tias and Nunhs and all that desert tail, having to fight constantly, like, well, like you, furball?" The kit simply swished its tail.


He kept on talking, unbowed. "Yeah, I went to see all those U-types. Pickiest audience I had in a while! What's a man to do with all those hot-weather-garbed femmes, spending fifty times as much time nursing their little warrior-girl snottiness as they do actually getting their clothes to fit? I should have just brought me a bit of good oak lumber from the Shroud, put a knot on that arrogant alpha's fuzzy head, and sat on him instead of the chairs. Would've probably gotten their attention, eh? Can't see how a hot-blooded male could live in a place like that... me, I'd have to tell them to go back to licking themselves, and... well, set out wandering to find my own fortune, just like I'm already doing, eh?"


The coeurl kit laid down, glittering eyes still on the Highlander, tail swishing with either interest or warning - it was hard to tell, and the idea elicited a true harrumph from the bard.


"Yeah, yeah, I know. Ok, some of you aren't bad, right? Reshie, for one, I wonder what she's up to... Yaz, when she's not cooking up something... and the moon-eyed ones, them I can handle..."


The kit sniffed.


"No, you're right, they aren't Roes! Look, there were a few in tonight's crowd, yeah, but hells if they weren't all as cold as a sahagin's briny backside. A man's gotta have options, you little fuzzball."


He looked away from the kit, and at his propped-up foot. He wiggled the ankle; there was no pain, but the same stiffness lingered, as if he'd been stepping on a rock all day, yet there had been neither rocks nor lumps in his boots.


"Yep, some of them aren't too bad at all, are they? They do look good in violet." He reached to try to pet the little feline, but it backed away, and batted at his hand.


"Even when they're feisty, right? Can't argue with you there, little one. Keeps me inspired. I do wonder how I look in purple, myself."


He picked up the lute, and brought it into position. The couerl, startled by the sudden move, vaulted from the bed and scampered out the door frame, leaving but a tuft of fur where it lay before.


The bard strummed a few bars, in a deep resonance. "Good thing some of your people can handle it. Felines, go figure. I wonder how they'd like this one. It's about them, after all."


He began to play, the notes remaining heavily on the low end of the instrument's range, and bobbed his head to his own tune and voice.


"I'm gonna take 'em on... an army full o' Nuhns can't hold me back

I'm gonna rip 'em up... and leave 'em all a mewlin' after each attack

And I'm takin' all their mates for mine, every one I can get

Though there's only really one of them that I've wanted yet


Gonna bring her to my bower and leave the rest all alone.


I know I'll hear about it; they'll be sharpenin' their claws lookin' for a chance

Don't give a damn about it; forsakin' all their ways for the one romance

And if they catch me all alone at night, they'll try to bring it to me

But I'll be painting all the dunes with their blood; that's how it has to be


And I'll return to my bower and show my little queen her home


I'm going to Ul'dah, Far from this desert place forevermore

I'm gonna work this town, If i have to shed blood out of every pore

And I'm bleeding, and I'm bleeding, and I'm bleeding in the fighting games

But when my queen is waiting for my return, I can't feel any shame


And the cheers coming to me from the crowd tell me, Welcome Home..."

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Those at the base of the Costa Del Sol watchtower would be well illuminated by the massive, sheltered bonfire atop it, but they would have had to strain for any chance to hear the faint notes sent from the tower's top, obscured as they would be by the distance, the crash of waves and the whistling wind adding their rhythms to the night air, as if setting the backbeat for the show of stars in a sky finally clearing from a long rain.


Atop the tower, a Hyuran bard of unusually large stature sat in the parapet, ankles crossed, and playing upon an ornate lute snatches of tunes to the amusement of a broad Roegadyn male and grey-haired Miqo'te woman, the tower lookouts. The uniformed pair offered no comment, most likely in deference to their duties, but the performer caught them glancing back with occasional stifled smiles here and there. The shapely Keeper femme dozing about a yalm away offered no comment but steady and peaceful breathing, and the music apparently was not enough to keep her awake.


So, with an audience of present but unresponsive sort, he played mostly for himself, and for the stunning vista of Costa Del Sol, the glow of its torches and lamplights turning the tall Aetheryte there into a pillar of motes and prismatic flickers. The lute strummed in tune with the wind.


"Within the hot spring did the couple come to dance

Both of them dang'rous as the tip of a lance

Little more than skin and knuckles, offered up to view

Until one fell, exhausted, and the other earned what's due


The Lion and the Wolf, were facing off amongst the splashes

Then roar and howl, they echoed loud, and sprung to matching dashes..."


He paused voice and string. "Lion and Wolf... that deserves better than this ditty. That was too epic a fight for simple doggerel." He closed his eyes, and thought back briefly to the contest of skill he'd witnesses mere bells before, as the Lady Knight, stripped to her skivvies, met fist-to-fist with the aggressive, gold-maned Nuhn.


He sighed. "Too peaceful, up here, for Epics... too lovely a view all around... bugger me that I didn't bring that bottle along. I do hope that lass enjoyed it."


He licked his lips, and started a fresh tune, one with fewer variances in notes, more fit for an easy crowd.


"I've caroused with a punk, a lightweight drunk

Whose legs were rarely stable

And a highland girl, with the bouncy curl

Who could bounce you under the table

And the Lala in the room who could consume

More than any Roe was able

An an Elezen gent with a constant bent

For awaking in a stable


There's not a noblewoman out there who's so wonderfully posh

That she won't become a trollop when appropriately sloshed...


A puissant Paladin might have a thick skin,

But pass along a pint and he'll fall to sin

Summoners, they say, can stick it away

On a crate of cognac every day

There's nothing that a monk or two won't do

When filled with ale of an amber hue

Nobody can splurge like a Thaumaturge, or half as far can spew


In the mornings, their adornings may be purposefully missed...

And wondering how they got bugger-all pissed!"


As the tunes faded, he glanced once at the sleeping femme, and chuckled softly.

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The little two-person table was a simple but inspired convenience, really, painted in a rich chestnut brown, with its two matching seats, to match the earthen hues of the rest of the Carline Canopy; its position just away from the airship ticketers, down in the boarding area, ensured that while it would seldom be surrounded by a throng of drunkards, that anyone seated there would see plenty of people coming and going.


No airships were due in for at least half a bell, though, which well-enough suited the sizeable Hyur, whose well-worn leather boots were propped up on the table. His personalized lute was propped high, and was producing a slow-tempo, high pitch melody throughout the large room, whether to the delight or derision of the workers. Nathan was as alone as he really ever was, and for once, he wasn't bothered by it, and his voice was deep but muted in volume.


"Feel the aether where she walks, the lady in white so beautiful...

A lovely and engaging femme, blinding your eyes with skin so white...

See her sashay through fog and wind, leaving a trace of grace in her wake

And even a hurricane wouldn't dare to dishevel her hair

You can see the flowers in rows, bending to feel a passing touch

And to learn perhaps for themselves how she draws us in so much..."


Something moved in his peripheral vision, and he glanced up in time to see a pair of pretty feline eyes settling across the table from him. The lute was stilled instantly.


"Never can be truly alone, hm? Didn't see you there, but since you went to all the trouble to come over, stay awhile. Enjoying the playing, were you?"


He caught a hint of a flicking tail, but there was no other reaction from his sudden companion.


"You're trying to tell me that the old resolve is breaking, aren't you? Look, I went to the ball - isn't that what a bard ought to do, go where the people are, watch the great dance of eyes and voices and hands, see the sway and fray of fancy dress, feel the buzz like a warm blanket? That's what I should be doing."


His companion simply offered a tilted head.


"Hey, it was a hell of a time! Okay, okay, I did leave some of those housemates to themselves. You think it's easy trying to get to know those kind of people, when I can sense what's going on behind their eyeballs, and I realize that the only thing I've got in common with pretty much all of them is the occasional headache and sometimes breathing the same air? Hells, how do you talk to a band like that, when they think you make no real sense, but they make a vagrant, punchy musician seem like a well-adjusted and upstanding member of the community...all right, all right. I'll try to be nicer, but I'm not making any promises."


The eyes blinked, perhaps expectantly.


"Yeah, well, I did what I did, and I don't regret it... maybe, yeah, I wonder what would have happened if I stayed; there was that courtesan with the melodious voice all by her lonesome behind that fan, and that piratical little performer shook the room like the pillars of heaven themselves were rocking - those were some hips - and the little witch-kitty is quite the looker in baby-blue. I really need to bite down and get myself into these gigs... but that's not what you want to hear, is it? You think I'm reneging on my promise to myself. I know you do."


The head across the table leaned in more closely, eyeing the bard, and then the lute, in turn.


He sighed. "This isn't some kind of thing like a military oath or some quest for the gods here. I know what I used to have, and that's what I wanted, and I'd walk right away from those blasted sheep over and over and over if those gods kept putting me back there, and no, I don't take that kind of a hint, because the ones who can't do anything but give hints want to sit back against the wall while everyone else plays and does the dance, and then they want to fall moping on their couches and wail about why the world ignores them. I left, all right? I left the flock, and I left the party, and I will tell you here and now that what I found on the dock was a wonderful thing, and I don't regret that... I don't. I don't know how long I can do duets, but I don't regret it, so no need to harp about it, you little minx."


Four fuzzy paws crept across the table, and the little coeurl kitten, all purrs and fluff, nuzzled his hand. He reached up to scratch it between the ears, and it reared up, batting the hand just before setting down to submit to the affection.


"All right, you little beast. Now, since you've been such a fair and nonjudgmental companion, I'll play you one, on the house."


He leaned back in the chair, leaving the kitten to sit on the table before him, tail twitching. The lute found its place again, and he started to strum it.


"I left the show 'bout half past ten, those hips o' yours done did me in

So take me on home, show me the way home,

Let's wander, pretty lady, show me around tonight.


The eyes were wanderin' wild and free, but you gave that look and it was over for me..

So take me to the bower, show me that bower

Let's wander, pretty lady, let me pick that flower tonight..."

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This time, he didn't even make it out of the Goblet.


Perhaps it was the sun's demanding glare. Perhaps it was that the wall was cool against his back, providing succor against the Thanalan heat.


Perhaps it was the vista of mountains surrounding the community, like an encircling lover's arms, ever present to those who lived there, a shield against whatever lay beyond their horizon.


He glanced up, eyes dancing at the collection of rooftops and pathways that formed the mix of rambling randomness and underlying order of the locale. Then there were the gardens, havens for plants and flowers that would otherwise never survive there but for the tender ministrations of residents, knowing that only through careful tending and constant appreciation could their beauty linger.


There were towers in the distance, and one pointed like the finger of a deity to the climbing sun, daring him to ignore it. It was as an accusation from the Twelve themselves - or perhaps all but one of the Twelve. He was not a man for gods, but perhaps Oschon, of all of them, might understand most. Certainly, there had been another man of music who had been touched by divine favor.


Nathan set his lute close to his chest, and played that man's song for himself, perhaps for the first time comprehending it.


"Would I be a wand'rer, a roaming man or rake,

If any one estate could make me glad?

Would I pluck the maidenhead from a festive virgin girl,

If there were constant comp'ny to be had?


They call me Mister Worn-Heel, and I'll play you all a reel

And if the dance is festive, does it matter how I feel?

Rambling from square to square, from smile to coquette's leer

Lest I forsake all of my theres for a reason to stay here.


Raise the banners and your cheers when I amble to your domain

Prithee tell me what you'd have me play

Take me to your playgrounds, to the giggles of your maids

Take me in before I drift away.


They call me Mister Worn-Heel, but an evening will I steal

To set your scions spinning, and meander for a meal

Rambling from court to court, knowing every minstrel's fear:

When will I forsake all those theres, for the one to keep me here?


To be the poor folk's link to grace, and the noble's secret sin

What other life could one as I desire?

To be the middleman through whom the young boy may begin

To set his chosen woman's soul afire?

And at the following sunrise, to wander off again,

Marking off upon my soul, another place I've been;

As the lighted windows fade, and the twilight cools my skin,

Is there freedom in my pulse, or a different ache within?

So leaves Mister Worn-Heel, with only instrument and pack

Wond'ring if there are any eyes a-lingering on my back..."

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The new boot was tight on his foot, making each step a reminder of the pains that change could bring. But every boot, eventually, wears, and must be mended or replaced, lest the want of a sole be the only thing between doldrums and delights.


Tight or not, it did a fine job of keeping the sand's heat from his feet, even though the days were getting shorter and less oppressive with the approaching harvest season. It was a time for moving, and move he did, having left but his old, replaced boot, a note, and a few blossoms as a token to the hosts whose grace had been quickly given, but which had worn like the boot's heel.


And so, he sang softly to himself, composing in his head, his lute still safely packed in its case.


"Walking through avenues of stately apartments

Quailing to think of how the settled life makes sense:

To splurge in the waterhole, after a long workday

Eating like paupers to hope for banqueting some day.

In fear of the bandits who wait in the alleys

And more of the taxmen, who kill with their tallies


So I'll be away, down the pathway

It's the only way for me

By the next moon, I may move on

While there's world still yet to see..."


If a little creature of fur and fluff followed him from a safe distance, he neither turned nor indicated any notice, and kept singing softly to himself, as if he could ward off his own thoughts, or perhaps at least dampen them, with lyrics. If others could hear, what of it? They would hear, or they would return to the buzz of the everyday panic that gnawed at their collective sanity.


"Welcome daybreak, my dear friend; I see it's you and I again,

Thoughts of entropy came creeping, interrupting my faint sleeping

And leaving upon me an indelible, fell design, burned in my mind

Leaving no room for silence


In fevered dreams I walk alone, taking note of every stone,

In the shadow of a tallow lamp, clasping cloak against the cold and damp

Stalked by the voices whose intent I cannot sense, or dispense

Leaving no room for silence.


And in a shrouded hall I heard, a thousand moans, but not one word.

Souls touching but not feeling, skewed perceptions and thoughts reeling

If I can only get far enough away, before I finally fail, to remain hale..

And find some room for silence."

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  • 2 weeks later...

The leaves were of all colors, and though they must have numbered in the millions, upon the ground or floating from the thinning bowers above, each of them had its own blend of hues, and more keenly evident, its own take on the sound of crispy crunches under boot heels and, scant minutes ago, under the blanket belonging to a certain tall bad of browned hair, browned skin and perhaps a small trunk's height and thickness.


He opened his travel pack, and removed a small package of beeswax-infused paper, opening it with a crackling sound not terribly unlike the fallen foliage. Within was a honeycake, still carrying last traces of warmth from the Bismarck's bakery earlier that morning. He'd stayed in Limsa that night, having willed himself away from what could have been a much warmer, much more comfortable, and more occupied, bed. Parts of him still made their displeasure known in various ways, but the palisades had been erected around his heart, and would not be moved more that day. Too much was at stake, and memories of sheep-stink and bitter longings had wrapped themselves around his thoughts, cementing the barrier in place.


A bird in a cage may sing, but it is not what it was meant to be, and no epic tales, even of the romance craved by all but the hardest of hearts, are made or found from upon a shelf. And thus, for the moment, a tree and the rustle of leaves were more comfort than a sultan's suite.


Patience... patience, and the coming harvest, and prayers to Nophica, of the sorts that only bards and lovers offer, would surely resolve the tangle, and clear away the leaf litter. Perhaps it would be in time to build a roaring winter's fire, enough to set ablaze all the deadwood.. or perhaps the wood would still be too soaked and sodden to yield up its heat, leaving no choice but to find better yields for sparks.


Yet, advice that one gives is but empty, foul air if one cannot heed it oneself, and so he did, sampling a small bite of the cake. It was sweet, full bodied, and satisfying, just the sort of thing to screen out, for even a short time, all other woes and wonder. Perhaps one could have cake every day, but each one, as sampled, was gone. Whether there were to be more was a question of fortune, or one's readiness either to learn baking, or embrace bakers.


The cake finished, he rubbed crumbs from his hands, and as the afternoon winds lifted the leaves into whorls, he greeted them with lute and lyrics, seeing a long-lost face in the windswirls and hearing a voice in the breeze. If the story it told was as much fancy and want as truth, then what of it? What else should a song be?


"On a long-past morning,

heard a tapping on my tent

Her voice said, 'Come out, minstrel,

if that is what you call yourself.

I sense you had some questions,

But first, I must say aught to you

Your most important lesson

And it's the only one that's true:


'Wake up, stretch your legs,

And be off with the sun

Heed your own instrument more so than anyone

Today you're a pupil, but soon you'll find it meet

To trust to nothing but the boots upon your feet.'


So I joined her chorus

And she taught me how to play

Filled our nights with dancing

'Til she told me yesterday


"Did you take in the plan, remember what I said

That there would come a day to seek out your own stead

Tonight's the last night that you spend under my eye

No need to keep the nest when the bird has learned to fly."


Thus, upon the morning

I packed up all that I owned

Made off through the thickets

It was time the bird had flown


Sometimes I think about the things that she had said

While walking town to town, never owning my own bed

There's but one thing she never told me how to find:

How long must I wander 'til I get my peace of mind."

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The Coffer and Coffin was packed, wall to wall, with patrons. There were dust-bedecked miners, wiping their noses and chugging cheap ale. Merchants of many-hued tunics, tabards and tops congregated in tight little pockets, enjoying slightly more expensive libations and lagers. Broad-shouldered porters sat closer to the counter, determined not to lug their drinks far after spending the whole day carting crates for gil. A few men and women of the Brass Blades, armored and wary, made up most of the rest of the complement, with but a pair of fancy-dressed Elezen women who could be taken either for slumming syndicate molls or perhaps overeager courtesans.


None of their identities mattered to the tall highlander standing on the corner table, clad in leather, lute at the ready in his hands. All that mattered was that his pulse raced, and gone were the murk and muddle of the day before. After all, he'd taken his own advice. Fortune and fair lady would come, or they would not, and for yet another shining moment, Nathan Telluride, itinerant bard, had the thing he loved as much as anything upon the face of Hydaelyn: an eager crowd, one that was actually interested to hear a tune and forget the day's travails. This was life, this was every sunrise and sunset and moon and patch of starlight in a single instance, and it had no room for sadness or wistfulness. A bold feeling demanded a bold song to warm the crowd.


He stood straight, balanced himself on the table, and lifted his hand. He needed no preamble for this song, this favorite of skalds everywhere, and simply strummed the chord with a force and flair fit for casting spells:


"Brothers of the verse, rejoice!

Play your strings with me!

Sisters, let me hear your voice!

Sing, sing, sing with me!

Play your tunes in every town,

Praise the sky and stomp the ground

Show the power in your sound

Flirt because we get around!


Born to the song, bred to spread the harmony

Raised in the taverns, traveling from sea to sea

Hearts made for rhythm, bass in our bones

To live by music makes us free,

Brothers, sisters, sing with me!


I am a bard and I'm playing a song

Come and clap along, come and join the throng

I am a bard and I'm singing a song

Come and play along, make your voices strong


Traveling through copse and wood

Tread, tread every pass

"til we find your neighborhood

Raise, raise every glass

Entertaining is our quest

Draw a smile from every guest

Good for every song request

Warm the beds at your behest!


I am a bard and I'm playing a song

Come and clap along, come and join the throng

I am a bard and I'm singing a song

Come and play along, make your voices strong


Born to the chorus, live to make the desp'rate laugh

Raised in the backstage, joy will be our epitaph

Wardens of the woodwinds, and sovereigns of the strings

Wet our whistles with your ales, whet your passions with our tales!


I am a bard and I'm playing a song

Come and clap along, come and join the throng

I am a bard and I'm singing a song

Come and play along, make your voices strong


Born to the song, bred to spread the harmony

Raised in the taverns, traveling from sea to sea

Hearts made for rhythm, bass in our bones

To live by music makes us free,

Brothers, sisters, sing with me!


I am a bard and I'm playing a song

Come and clap along, come and join the throng

I am a bard and I'm singing a song

Come and play along, make your voices strong!"

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  • 2 weeks later...

Don't think about it.


The image in the mirror huffed back at him: a tall Highland Hyur of tanned skin, chestnut brown beard and long hair, and a thickly-bridged nose. It wore a lively shirt of white and red stripes, and held before its chest was an ornately decorated lute. Its face seemed taut.


Don't think about it.

The hands in the mirror positioned themselves on the instrument, calloused fingers easily finding their place and chords.


Don't think about it.


He cleared his throat, and watched the form in the mirror stand straight, spine align to full height. A pair of cleansing breaths worked magic to clear his thoughts and enervate his spirit.


Don't think about it.

Don't think about the Festival. Don't think of the applause. Don't think of Halone and Nophica fighting and making it rain. Don't think about Cora. Don't think about Jancis or Xenedra or the others. Don't think about Cora. Don't think about flowers or a nearly miraculous burst of sun. Don't think about the lingering soreness. Don't think about the trail to come. Don't think about the future, or the next town. Don't think about Cora.


The Hyur in the mirror shook his head, sending his long hair waving.


Focus. One song at a time. This one's for a friend. Only one song at a time, bard. One song at a time. There will be time for all else after this one performance. Get it right. Don't think about duets. There's at least one more solo left, and this one's for the best two reasons: to grease the wheels of affection between a woman and a man, and for the bloody fun of it.


He cleared his throat, and played the opening notes of the tune, the lute giving forth high, fast-tempoed notes.



"He came down to the Quicksand,

But to find a cure for dry lips.

Thought he might find a quiet evening

Sampling ales and leaving tips.

The bar became rather busy,

And he didn't know what he'd found:

A bevy of twitching, furry tails

Started gathering all around.


He could feel 'em circling tightly

He could sense them struttin' around.

He had tails to the left, tails to the right,

Was there no Nuhn in this town?

He had tails to the left, tails to the right

Is he the only man in town?


He wasn't looking for any Miqo'te,

On this or any other day;

Might rather spend time with Hyuran honeys

Watching sunsets by Vesper Bay.

But somehow a tribe of toothy ladies,

From somewhere in Thanalan,

Came swishing tails and flicking ears,

Tryin' to find themselves a man.


But He could feel 'em circling closely,

He could sense them struttin' around.

He had tails to the left, tails to the right,

Was there no Nuhn in this town?

He had tails to the left, tails to the right,

Is he the only man in town?


So he tried to keep it casual,

With a pleasant "How d'ye do?"

But the tails came slipping closer,

And the purrs were louder, too

You could see a little bead of sweat

Just a drippin' from his brow,

And the last we heard of the man himself

Was a tavern-splitting meow.


And you could see 'em piling all over,

'Cause they were done with struttin' around.

There were tails to the left, tails to the right,

He was the one Nuhn in this place...

He had tails to the left, tails to the right,

And lots of lipstick on his face."

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  • 2 months later...

[with acknowledgments to Blind Guardian, and dedicated to the RPC members who introduced me to them, and thus broke a most stubborn writer's block]




"Look, lad, I heard about that little grouse of yours with your mother. Someone needs to talk to you, that's for sure, but we both know you aren't going to listen to her right now. You're right, too, but now you're going to listen to me, and don't even pretend you're too good to hear what I have to say: I already have your attention, and you've been staring at my chest for the past five minutes even though I run this show, I'm twenty years your senior, and I could have you booted from the troupe with a word. But it takes guts to keep smiling like that when you're caught, and guts you have to go with your gifts, so I'm going to talk to you like a man, now, and not the boy your mother still sees."


Not a boy, but the man, ten years older, knelt in the loam around the ruin. The soil was still laced with grey, tinged by ash, and seemed to be fertile enough for the wildflowers and weeds that grew around the dilapidated stone foundations. It was perhaps more fitting than tombstones and epitaphs, for those who had fallen here.


Now you all know of bards and of songs

But when they have fallen, who closes their eyes?

On currents of Aether we may meet again

But now hear my song of the one who remains

Let's sing the wanderer's song...


"Now, hear me. She's wrong, and she's right. First, you're one of us, a musician, a performer, and you're already proven to me what you can do. Keep it up, lad, and you'll never need fear for your future. Your mum, she's a seamstress, and a good one, but that's her role with us, and it's all she really understands. She's not going to stand before the crowds. You aren't like her, and you're not going to be, but still, you could stand to be a little more attentive to what it means to be a family, blood or not."


The Shroud had nearly reclaimed the entire site; only a few broken walls and chimneys, and half of the old well, were even recognizable as having been once part of a village. The elementals' will must have descended swiftly here, for the saplings were of chest-height, and the ivy and lichen were already thick on the scorched stone. If there were bones, they were buried under nearly a decade of soil, mud and grass. He simply knelt, feeling the dampness of the ground even through leather trousers. Nothing was here but ruin, recovery, and himself; even his bow and lute, the most precious things left to him, lay against the thick oak twenty yalms away; he'd felt it somehow wrong to bring them closer, as if some spirit of fell fortune lingering here might taint them. He reached his hand into the soil, scooping up half a handful, and then noticed the feather: it was a fulm long, dirty brown, greasy, and... not old even in the slightest. It was but a few fulms away. Then he heard the crack and crush of leaves behind him, and a frustrated hiss.


Tomorrow will take us away, far from home

No one will ever know our names but the one bard that remains

Tomorrow may take them away, the thoughts of past days

All will be gone, except the memory of song

"Nate, love, no matter how much she frustrates you - and believe me, lad, I know she's a challenge - she's kin, your only blood kin. Not that the blood matters so much; we're all mutts here, you know that, but this has to be a family, or else we're all just a bunch of prancing fops and reprobates. You need her, right now, and she needs you, just like we all need to be in synch with one another. If you need a surrogate mum who understands you a little differently, I'll try my best, but I'm a busy woman, lad, and it's going to be a little awkward if you can't keep that libido of yours in check."


Nathan leaped to his feet and turned to look behind him as fast as he could; the slippery soil slowed his rise, but it was still in time to see the pair of Ixal bearing down on him, charging, one with a wickedly barbed axe, and one with spear gripped double-handed. Ixal... the feathers matched the one he'd seen on the ground nearby. Ixal... just like the ones responsible for this lost hamlet's immolation... his troupe, his family, all lost... so long ago. His bow was too far away to reach in time. Jumbles of pragmatic memories flashed nearly unbidden - barfights, wrestling matches with the troupe, friendly sparring. A brand new crease formed on his forehead, and he crouched, reaching for the only thing nearby - a fist-sized stone near his feet.


There's only one song left in the mind

Tales of the boy who was dragged far from here

Now the bard's songs are distant; will they end here?

Will no one remain, to tell the tales of the fallen,

A buried story...?


"It's going to be a struggle every day, but that doesn't make it a bad thing, lad! It means we're alive, and we live on no one's terms but our own and the good will of the Elementals, and lucky for us the Woods love singers and dancers so much that we could likely torch half of the Sylphlands and just get a little warning earthquake. I don't promise you easy, love, but I promise that every one of us is here for the other, because it's no one bard's song - it's all of ours. It always will be, love. Always. So chin up, and get to practice. Just because you can hit those low notes, m'dear, doesn't mean you've mastered them!"


There were rumors heard for malms around, spread further at Buscarron's Druthers, that Ixal had been heard in the outer Shroud, screeching, in areas of the wood where sentients only rarely visited these days, after the Calamity. No matter, the drinkers said - the elementals hadn't yet grown so weak that they were unable to muster any defense, and the lack of any further hubbub or rumors satisfied most that the Treants, or the Wild Hogs, or even perhaps the Sylphs, had dealt satisfactorily with the intruders.


And if a tall bard of apparent Highland stock, an uncommon sight in these woods, stumbled into the Druthers, bruised and bloodied and clutching at a broken bow and a scratched lute case, and asked for the strongest drink he could get, that, too, was not unusual here. The Shroud was full of stories, and perhaps he'd sing of them later, and lift everyone's spirits.


Tomorrow will take us away far from home

No one remembers their names but the bard whose song will remain

But tomorrow, the sun will still rise, so look to the skies,

The ballad may not be the same

But the bard's songs still will remain.

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  • 2 weeks later...

By the Twelve... how much changes, how much stays the same, and how long had it been since...


Too long. Much too long.


Violet motes still danced in his vision, from the lingering fires of candles and from thoughts dredged more from the guts than from the soul. He counted breaths, until they entered the teens, and could no longer screen out the murmurs and last remnants of anticipatory applause from the crowd.


They expected love songs - it was Menphina's moon, after all, and Twelve help him, he'd been delivering sweet and songs of friendship and amorous affection for days now, drawing joy from voices and faces when he could.


Soon enough, they would have what they expected. The Celebration of Menphina loomed within a fortnight, and he would surely offer praise to the goddess, then, and feel it within his own heart, and be buoyed by the crowd once more.


But not yet. Before he could feel it, before he could even consider trading eyes like beds of violets, for eyes like sylvan glades in autumn, green and gold and framed by a red like sailors' favored sunsets, there was one more thing he had to do, and there was only one way it was to be done.


He was a bard, and this was his stage, and all else did not matter for the next five minutes.


And so the opening note strummed on his lute, quieting all else, preparing the air for the words and notes that would purge the last block, and provide his last sacrifice to Oschon before he could give Menphina her due.



"Shared a longing gaze with you and, too long, let it linger

Saw your eyes light up, soft and sincere

Held your silken hand upon the chord, guided your fingers

I never heard a note ring out so clear

One note, was all I could hear...


Falling, as the night was falling

I remember music, and an angel calling

In the tune I knew I was wanting, to believe in something

But I don't want to remember falling... for those eyes.


Slipped out of those robes, showed me your soul, showed you my vigor

Rejected inhibitions you held dear

Took me in, and held me, left me feeling like a winner

Let your heartbeat be the last note I could hear


Falling, as the night was falling

I remember music, and an angel calling

In the tune, I knew, I was wanting, to believe in something

But I don't want to remember falling... for those eyes.


Took our act upon the road, out stalking songs and sunsets

Went harmonizing with the crowds and flowers

Two fortnights of starry nights we spent watching horizons

Under a lovers moon we spent our hours

Yet Oschon still demands a price from those who would revere him

For some are not cut out to leave their homes

Too heavy was the price to me, a man who still must fear him

And upon the road I travel on alone.


Falling, as the night was falling

I remember music, and an angel calling

In the tune, I knew, I was wanting, to believe in something

But I don't want to remember falling... for those eyes."

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  • 4 weeks later...

The hubbub and buzz of chatter and dozens of beeping and clacking machines were somewhat less noticeable in the little corner of the upper deck, where a few chairs and tables of ornate, almost gaudy, design provided a solace for those whose feet were weary, throats were dry or eyes were dazzled by the blaze and light of glory that the Gold Saucer had become the moment it had opened. It was not a place of comforts for the timid, the easily distracted, or the pure, but since those sorts of people were in short supply as it was, there remained plenty of guests to fill the massive entertainment hall nearly from wall to wall with giddy people.


The bard who stood tall on the chair in the corner had tried his hand at some of the games. Of course, he'd been largely distracted by the green-gold of the eyes that were staring up at him, from the adjacent seat, eyes that would make an irresistible asset to one of the salacious bunny-outfits that the casino attendants wore.


The thought made him chew his lower lip, and a long breath was forced on him as he considered the aftermath of the party of the night before, in Soliloquy House, and beyond it. The guests had been many, and festive, and he'd been kept on his toes for a good while, between hobnobbing with them, serving wine that he'd smuggled in when the hostess had not been looking, and breaking into a sudden combined performance that had left blushes, odd stares and giggles floating about the room. It was supposed to have helped a friend get something he'd really, really wanted, but there was only so much one can do with a single song. Oh, yes, and there had been fortune-telling going on downstairs, too, and very well received, apparently, though the bard himself had been more interested in hobnobbing with the drink-loving blonde and the ardent redhead to either side of him - the same redhead, in fact, who was with him now, and whose look seemed to drift between a public face of dispassion, and hints of the most desirable kinds of mayhem.


But, business before pleasure, and he'd not been given an hour's leave to perform here by the establishment simply to squander it in exchanges of looks. That would come later. For now, the little crowd that had gatherered were watching him intently. It wasn't really especially unusual for a tall male of Highland stock, dressed in coastal fashions, to try to get attention in the casino, but one with a deep voice, a lute, and the intent to use them might well be worth a few minutes of time between the Chocobo races and the next show on the center stage.


But attentions were flames that needed fanning and fuel, and so he spoke.


"Welcome, guests of the Gold Saucer! I've been given a chance to play a little something for those of you in this comfy corner today. It's not my usual style, but I'm a man who won't turn down something interesting when he hears it. This one was taught to me by a well-heeled Lalafellin gentleman, who relieved me of much of my playing funds last week, and agreed to give me some back if I would play his song on occasion, to commemorate his mastery of the cards. Consider this my debt paid, and you as the beneficiaries, lads and lasses, and lend your ear to what is probably the most aggressive thing I've ever had to perform."


He lifted his lute, but instead of strumming, hung it from his neck, and began to beat it softly, like a drum of sorts, and moved his other hand to a tabor drum strapped to his belt, creating a heavy, slow and percussive beat. His voice dropped to its lowest register as he began a chanting sort of song.


"As I stride through the Saucer, where I'm fully invested,

I know that you can't get in, because it's fully congested.

But that's all right, because it would be a waste

To let in scrubs like you just to fall on your face.

At the first crack of dawn, I'm there hittin' the tables,

And I'm taking down Elmer like his brain was disabled.

Triad's triplin' my winnings every time that I play,

So if you're lookin' for a score, you might as well stay away

I'm a gambling man, and I'm playing to win,

My pouch keeps gettin' fatter while yours gets thin.

If you think you got a shot, by all means, go ahead,

But when I take your MGP, don't go cryin' in your bed.


We'll be spendin' most of our lives

Playin' in this Manderville paradise.

Bought Fenrir once or twice,

Livin' in Gold Saucer paradise.

I accept the sacrifice

Of stayin' in this gambler's paradise.

I once heard PVE was nice,

But the Saucer is my paradise.


A pretty Roe-lass challenged me to Triad last week

Sent her packin' with Bahamut and a kiss to the cheek

Bring Minfilia out? Then I'm takin' her in

When we play the Swap match that I'll easily win.

I'm nabbin' MGP from those who don't deserve it,

And I get the table first even if you reserve it,

'Cause I'm buddies with Godbert, and you haven't a chance,

Though I kinda wish m'boy would put on some pants.

If you're just here to visit, I'll be lettin' you be

'Cause it's such a great place, and there's plenty to see.

I'll even wish you well at the Chocobo race,

But if you bring out your deck, I'm puttin' you in your place.


We'll be be spendin' most our lives

Hanging out in gambler's paradise.

The Riviera shirt looks nice

When I wear it in this paradise.

Lovin' every kind of vice

Livin' in Gold Saucer paradise.

Victims of our own device,

Livin' in this Manderville paradise.


Bunny girls starin' at me with looks that could melt butter;

Kissed three last night, and soon I'll have another.

Think you can take on a card-carryin' primal?

When the tournament comes, I'll take you out in the final.

Still baitin' newbies long as they keep bitin';

Won't wear the Gambler's Coat 'cause it's ugly like Titan.

There just ain't no way to keep this player from play,

Gonna win me that cactpot at the end of the day.


The remainder of our lives

Are bein' spent in gambler's paradise.

Found the pie, and got my slice

Here within Gold Saucer paradise.

Goin' raiding might be nice

But not as good as gambling paradise.

So let me put your deck on ice

'Cause I'm the Sultan of Manderville's Paradise."

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The Gold Saucer crowd didn't quite seem to know what to think of the song, and he couldn't really blame them - it wasn't the usual kind of piece one heard from minstrels. But that's why he'd played it. Variety kept one fresh and vigorous, after all. Still, there was something to be said for giving the crowd what they wanted, and he opened up to tell them so.


"Perhaps you'd care for something a little more tender? This piece is mine, unlike the first, and it was my answer to a question someone very near to me, in more ways than one, had been trying to pose."


The lute was again put to its use as a stringed instrument, plucking out a soulful, slow melody.


"I remember one violet evening, though I've tried to pack its memory away.

It's a memory of violets wilting, but it's left me with one more thing to say.

When I look up to the sun, and think of all that we had done,

Was it better to have run, and have her spend her winter crying?

But winter always comes, anyway."


"I was waiting for the road to change her, but the change I needed, I could never see.

We pretended that all was blissful, I'm not sure if I fooled her, or she fooled me.

For when we looked into the sun, and thought on pleasures almost won,

That's when the stroll became a run, with no more duets for singing,

And winter killed the violets that day.


So I sing this sad song to you, love

To explain to you the travail that I had

Though it started as a sad song,

I give you a chance to make the music glad

So let us look into the sun, and though it may be the same one,

Perhaps a new song has begun, and we can find our summer

For summer always comes, anyway.


Now, let us look into the sun, and dream of all that can be done,

And I will walk from wilted violets and seek a woodland blossom,

So let your rose unfold for us today."


The crowd applauded more this time, as he stilled the lute. Was it out of greater appreciation, a more familiar topic, or because it was less... cheeky? He had time for one more, and there was a favor to repay to a good friend.


"Thank you! Let me leave you with a little something I put together for several friends who gave a ruddy-faced rogue a chance when he needed time to figure out who he was. They just finished construction of their beautiful little tavern in the Lavender Beds, and I promised them a little play when they had done so. I can find no better way to tell about it than in my usual way."


The lute twanged out a jauntier, bouncier tune as he played the encore.


"I know of an inn, in the Lavender Beds,

Where you can find liquor and rest for your heads.

The tavern is cozy, and the wenches are beauties,

And they'll never fail at their tableside duties.

So come right on in, and find you a seat,

Get warm by the fire and put up your feet.

Just look for the Tonberry King on the rug;

At the Wanderer's Lantern, come fill up your mug.


Whenever you're finished with your latest quest,

And you've seen many inns, come and try out the best.

Just ring the front bell for a tankard of ale;

We serve it up fast, every time without fail.

Bring over a friend for a hot round of cards,

Or look to our stage for live music from bards.

Whatever you hope for, no matter your sin,

The Wanderer's Lantern is your kind of inn."

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  • 2 weeks later...

Timing is everything, he thought to himself.


The thought jarred him, and he shifted on the mattress, blinking in the dark, and sighing in brief content at the softness of the mattress beneath him; it molded to his shoulders, though there was a dip in the left side of it, warmer than the right. That was as it should have been; he could hear the light breathing of the figure next to him, which, apparently, was now the benefactor of almost the entire bedspread. He smiled, unseen, for that, too was fine; the cool air was what he preferred at the moment, pulling the night's heat from his skin. Twelve bless the Ruby Carbuncle for not only hosting a rollicking night of drinking, but for having such a decadent and delightful hot spring, and perfectly comfortable beds. Too damnably comfortable, maybe, for a man who had slept on the ground more than most people sat on it.


But yes, timing. If he'd acted ten minutes faster, last night, he might have won himself a little monkey pet and the pink cap of the Carnival King, but time waits for no man, no matter what a protected fool he might be. He'd have performed a little dance and ditty inspired by the sublime silliness of the storyteller's session, which still rolled through his head like a stormcloud, keeping him from relaxing:


"You've seen the rest, now watch the best, and clap your hands at my behest...


So sing along and give a chance to the Frantic Sticky Marmot Dance!


Pink Sorceresses are fun to chase, but they'll summon waffles to your place...


And you, my friends, would also dance, when you're covered entire with spiders and ants!


So now before I spread my wings, and run off to find tastier things,


I offer you all this one last chance, to join in the Sticky Marmot Dance!"


Gods, the little ditty would not stop. He glanced to his side, trying to make out the form of his companion, but it was still too dark to make her out clearly. No matter; she still breathed peacefully. He reached out and rubbed a lock of her hair between his fingers, taking pleasure at the sensation. Her hair still carried the scent of spring water and light traces of the ash that once was his hat, which was now safely burned, hopefully having carried away with it his poor luck at the drinking contest. With any luck, that rowdy highland woman would cease to pester him with her need for revenge, though he felt a pang at the idea of the blind female harassing the contest's winner.


The ditty continued echoing through his head. He squeezed his eyes shut, pulled a pillow over his head. No change. He sighed, once and deeply, and pushed himself from the bed, naked in the darkness. His partner did not stir more than to take a deeper breath of her own. It sounded happy, and pouty, both at once.


The little chair in the corner seemed twice as far in the darkness as it should have been, but a cool draft there welcomed him no less than would a host of angels. He sat, feeling the air waft over his bare skin, much the opposite of the sensation of hot water and loud camaraderie in the downstairs springs, mere hours before.


He laid his head back, and found the back of the chair surprisingly comfortable. He swallowed; the air was just as cool and comforting in his throat.


Something had to combat that damned song in his head.


He started humming to himself, hopefully too soft to be heard, mentally reciting instead a song he had written for himself, and sympathetic audiences, a moon ago, a smooth and lilting tune:


"There once was a day I was but a traveling man

The paths in the Shroud lead from where I used to stand

I'll never forget those days; I see them as clear as glass

With ramblers, and gamblers, that's how I spent my past


Some call me a fool, they say that it's just a dream

To think I can live in a series of idle schemes

But, love, if you ask me why, I'll throw a kiss and say goodbye

For this is my time, and I've already crossed the line.


I've learned to work the evening crowds

I can show them just how to feel

I'll drink rum cocktails all night long

And find a heart to steal

You all forgot all the heroes of the world

So, I'll take the name that I choose

If Uldah's Sultana can be three fulms tall,

Then I'm the King of Fools.


I'll show her the waltz, and hold her in passion's dance

To give her a taste of what she'll call true romance

I'll share all I know and love, if she can be kind

Libations, sensation, to bedevil the mind


I stride like an emperor, through alley and street

Lay charms on these ladies, languid and bittersweet

I go up when the sun goes down, play a tavern in every town

Make this world my own, every stop is a home, sweet home


I've learned to work the evening crowds

I can show them just how to feel

I'll drink rum cocktails all night long

And find a heart to steal

You all forgot all the heroes of the world

So, I'll take the name that I choose

If Uldah's Sultana can be three fulms tall,

Then I'm the King of Fools.


This is the night, when I'll be the leading man

I'll take one more drink as I approach the stand

I cried as I wrote this song, you'll understand if I play too long

This minstrel is free, to be what he wants to be


I've learned to work the evening crowds

I can show them just how to feel

I'll drink rum cocktails all night long

And find a heart to steal

You all forgot all the heroes of the world

So, I'll take the name that I choose

If Uldah's Sultana can be three fulms tall,

Then I'm the King of Fools."

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  • 2 months later...

Humming... was that humming?


Images and sensations flashed... glasses of rum, laughter, burns in the throat, couerl-print tops, then golden eyes and red hair and cheers and the screech of table legs on stone floors and a soft, soft touch...


And humming. No, not quite humming. Buzzing? No, buzzing, flies, bees, chigoes, those were grating, but this was... soothing. Mmm. Like a soft blanket to the ears... like a soft touch to the cheek, like...


Purring. That was it, purring. That would explain...


His eyes bolted open, though there was not much to see in the darkness of the room. Their room. Mostly hers, really, but he was slowly, gradually, coming to see it as a little bit of his, for after all, he'd spent more nights here than he's spent in, well, any one place since... since he'd taken up the idea of becoming a paragon of Oschon, to put a sacred task to the rather profane life of being a wandering bard.


The bed was soft under him, softer than he perhaps had any right to have, or had ever expected to want to have; it was one of those rounded canopy beds popular among the more successful merchants of Gridania. It wasn't the sort of bed he'd grown up sleeping in at all, and the warmth and soft breathing he could both hear and sense beside him were, likewise, not what he'd grown up accustomed to, nor what he'd expected to find when, alone and determined, he'd simply walked away from the Outer Shroud with nothing more than clothes, a lute and some rather bitter determination to help him follow roads and stars.


The purring, also, the purring was also... all right, it was not entirely new.


"Hello, Minuet," he whispered, and reached up to lightly scratch under the chin of the black kitten that had climbed up his bare shoulder with soft paws, to nuzzle and purr at his cheek, and which was biting at his disheveled hair.


The kitten had every right to be there, of course. The little thing seemed to have a penchant for finding him every time he'd come to the city. Maybe it was because he'd slipped the creature a bit of salmon that one night, and had treated the little beast like a surrogate companion enough times, but he'd thought nothing of it, really; it was a happy wanderer, as was he. But then, he'd not been so alone anymore, and the little furball had come stepping up one night, after a show, when the lovely white witch and himself had been relaxing... and with a mew pitiful enough to shake a primal's heart, the black kitten at once found herself a new home and a new name, and had taken to becoming the official mascot of the budding duet.


"Hungry, are you? Now, where does she keep your treats..."


He turned on the bed as softly as he could, and let his bare feet fall to the rug, pushing gently to get to his feet, wiping his eyes. There was just enough moonlight slipping into the window to light a dim path to the desk in the room's far corner.


The bard padded his way softly across the floor, and to the desk, where there was somewhere within a little pack of dried fish. That the kitten knew this already was obvious enough, for there was plenty of light for its eyes, and it padded around him, nuzzling his calves, purring loudly. His lute, to, laid upon the desk, as if keeping a vigil upon this part of the room.


He opened a drawer, and heard the crinkle; he pulled out a small piece of the fish, snagged his lute, and plodded over to sit on the rounded, cushioned chair in the other corner, the one whose upholstery matched the bed. The kitten scampered immediately behind him, and set its paws upon his shin, sniffing, with all the persistent looks and mews that the gods had granted to keep such beasts in the graces of Eorzea's races.


"Enjoy," he whispered, and tossed her the morsel. Minuet spun, purrs growing even louder, and proceeded to chomp at her treat.


He took a long breath, and stretched out, taking a look around the moonlit room. Irony, such irony... for days, they'd been rehearsing a performance for the glory of Oschon, now but a few suns away, and it was not lost on him how his own goals had... well, if not changed, really, adapted. She had such a good voice, and had taken well to the harp, and when he sung with her, it was as if a piece of his youth had been given back to him, a tiny sample of his troupe lived on, summoned by and echoed in their harmonizing. Perhaps it was a slight betrayal, but still, they wandered about, seeing the world, as he'd wanted to; in fact, as soon as the next performance was done, they would be off to Coerthas, to entertain the stoics there, and to fulfill her dream of seeing castles and spires and knightly displays, snow or no snow. They were becoming a troupe of two, one more occasionally finding itself in the city, true, but still... if it had first felt strange, with every song, it had begun to feel more... more right.


He didn't know whether to laugh at himself as a fool, or to embrace it as simply more foolishness. Wisdom, even for himself, had never been his strong point.


He glanced down at the kitten, which was still noisily gnawing at its tasty acquisition, and whispered. "Quiet, you scamp, or you'll wake up..."


The clearing of a throat was audible from the bed.


He peered into the darkened corner, and could see enough, the shapely form sitting up in the bed, watching them. He couldn't see her face clearly, but he was sure he sensed a smile.


His fingers fell to the lute, in what was surely a betrayal of all desire to be quiet, and seemed to start playing on their own. Perhaps they knew his mind better than he did, and his voice, soft yet bass in the relative quiet, followed their instinct. It wasn't their song to Oschon... but to the god's bride.



"I stop to see the horizon glow at Swiftperch, where the spires of Limsa lie across the bay


There's light still showing warm from the remnants of the last campfire of a wanderin' day


They say you're never truly alone here, with the stars in thousands watching from above


And in that thought… I take… in my comforts, but by those lingering embers, sometimes I think of love.



I ask aloud,


Menphina, how many times will I fall for it?


Forget it come sunrise, but by moonrise, I'm all for it.


And an evening like this one.... seems to call..... for it.


I have roamed around the world, hoping I can find that girl,


The one I can't ignore... or maybe I will.



When you see walls of Uldah for the first time, you'll never wonder why you came this way


Where only stone and a thousand years of history are protecting everyone from the burning day


I stop in for a drink from the Quicksand, and I toss a smile at the lady behind the bar


She smiles at me as if she's got the knowing, of why with whom we want to be, is so rarely where we are.



I wonder now,


Menphina, how many times will I fall for it?


Forget it come sunrise, but by moonrise, I'm all for it.


And an evening like this one.... seems to call..... for it.


I have roamed around the world, hoping I can find that girl,


The one I can't ignore... maybe I will... Oh, maybe I will.



Soon, I'll see the endless tops of the Twelveswood, and I may be from there, but it's not quite home.


For among the woods it's too easy to miss the sunrise, which tells me every day when it's time to roam.


And though the memories are thicker than the thickets, I doubt that I will linger here for long.


For soon the moon will be showing through the canopy, and all that I have to offer her, is a solitary song.



Goddess, tell me now,


Menphina, how many times will I fall for it?


Forget it come sunrise, but by moonrise, I'm all for it.


And an evening like this one simply seems to call..... for it.


I will roam around the world, hoping I might find that girl


The one I can't ignore... maybe I will. Love knows, if I will.

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  • 6 months later...

The world tilted as he bowed.


The room was packed with warm bodies dressed in splashes of colorful finery, all in motion, and he felt as much as heard their voices, the cheers flowing towards the stage like an incoming, rolling tide; roses and pink petals floated down in arcs from above.


He stood straight again, and realized that he didn't recognize the stage. There was a familiar chandelier above, a set of chairs in a completely clashing style off to one side, and timeworn, scuffed, carved-up tables in another corner, all looking familiar but not familiar together.


The voices weren't all directed towards him, either. A pair of paces before him stood a line of familiar hairstyles, blondes and reds and blacks and even a green. The people they were attached to had their backs to him, and were taking bows to the cheering, somehow insubstantial throng; the drifting petals found themselves lodged within locks, braids and tails, colors blending...


The vision, which he was certain must have once been sharp, became blurry, a smudged wash of moving, hazy hues. Only the sounds remained sharp, and as he squinted, trying to assign names or identities to splashes of color, a new sound became audible - a persistent, deep hum. The hum became louder, becoming at first reminiscent of the magitek engines he'd seen in Ishgard, but then less harsh and grating, and somehow comforting in the chaos of swirling color that the room was becoming, making him start to feel dizzy. Sprays of what must have been sparkling wines erupted from where the crowd must still be, dousing him and the band of people with him, forcing his eyes closed in reflex, but the liquid felt gritty, somehow...


... the haze of hues snapped into sharpness once more as his eyes opened again, and the air immediately felt cooler. Something still hummed in his ear and rasped wetly upon his cheek, but now it had form, and a name: Minuet. He was not standing, but reclined on his back, and the black kitten was licking at his face, purring.


He blinked thrice, chasing the morning grit from his eyes, and reached up to scritch the little creature between its ears. "Spoilsport," he said to her. The kitten arched her back, pushing her head against his attentive fingers, her little engine still murring.


He took the first deep breath of the morning, unwilling to move further. A green spread covered him, sandwiching him between itself and the matching green mattress underneath, and its persistent warmth lulled him more so than the cat's desire for attention.


The dream's impressions still floated behind his eyes, though. Accolades, adulation, some of his favorite things, but not all his. Shared. He might have been behind them, but he was not alone in them. The cheers had not been for him, not directly, but for... something larger, something that floated, loomed like an unseen pocket of comforting warmth to match the trapped and body-heated air comforting him.


For a moment, he could hear voices long lost, feel smiles long turned to ash and buried, but still real, somehow, still... yes. Where ash might fall, new grass, new growth, new trees and a new canopy might grow. The thought was as warm as the others. It wasn't a thing in itself as much as... something being filled: A hole, once gaping and open, was not so deep and wide as it once was.


The kitten nudged his nose with her own; the quick, cold contact made him startle a little, and then laugh. He didn't want to move. Gods, this felt good.


He peered to the window, caught the slant of sunlight illuminating the dust in the air. He blinked, and swallowed. He didn't want to move. It was dawn, like hundreds of others before it, yet... no paths beckoned. He didn't want to move.


But another sound pushed through his hazy, waking state. A splash, and a soft voice humming, just audible over the lick of tiny waves. He focused his eyes, and could see the hint of steam in the sunbeam, now. Ah, the tub...


He scritched the base of the kitten's tale. "I think it's time." He whispered. The kitten blinked at him, and hopped from his chest, giving a little impatient meow in her wake. Time. How long it felt since he'd started out, how many dawns had come and gone, and him with them, place to place, never actually going somewhere as much as away from wherever here was, with but stars and music and a tent for company. But one could not build anything, not a legacy, not a troupe, not a life, without some sort of foundation. Perhaps Oschon and Byregot were not antitheses, after all.


The soft hum resolved into something rhythmical, a sweet little singsong of a tune long known in the Shroud, rising from the unseen singer, hidden as the tub was behind screen and low wall, and resolved a dozen uncertainties at once. The song paused, and the voice behind it offered up a single word.





Five minutes later, gold eyes, rimmed by a shade of green and framed by a head of hair the red of autumnal leaves, widened a little when a mostly-unclothed bard dragged a stool beside the edge of the tub. He covered his lips with one calloused finger, and touched her own lips with another. After a moment of stillness, he sat back, and the touch moved to the verdant gilt lute in his lap, letting tune and lyrics speak for him.


"Woke up in the mornin', and I looked up to the sun

Once, I would be on my way, but I think I might be done

I hear the paths a-calling, telling me to go my way

But there's a different call that's keeping me with you today


Can't help but play along, when I hear that special song

So I'm gonna see if I can get this right

Used to be gone with the sun, but you just might be the one

So you'll still have me around all through the night


'Cause I don't feel like wand'rin down those unknown paths today

My heart might feel that urge, but now it's tellin' me to stay

Oh, maybe we could find some shady lane where we could get away

But I don't feel like wand'rin, no ma'am, none of that today


Don't feel like wand'rin', wand'rin; I can see the sunrise fine from your room

Don't feel like wand'rin, wand'rin; don't need morning air when I smell your perfume

Don't feel like wand'rin, wand'rin; I'd rather stay in the bed for another dawn with you


In my time, I've walked about, through hamlet and empire

To sing and play from town to town was all I did aspire

It never mattered in the past just which road I would chose

But now there may be something that I can't afford to lose


Now, I can't pretend that I know how this will end

'Cause I've never set upon on this thoroughfare

But if it's the thing to do, let's try something really new

So that maybe we can build this as a pair


'Cause I don't feel like wand'rin down those unknown paths today

My heart might feel that urge, but now it's tellin' me to stay

Oh, maybe we could find some shady lane where we could get away

But I don't feel like wand'rin, no ma'am, none of that today


So let me linger with you yet, and play this song as a duet,

And my sun and stars be the bright ones in your eyes...


'Cause I don't feel like wand'rin down those unknown paths today

My heart might feel that urge, but now it's tellin' me to stay

Oh, maybe we could find some shady lane where we could get away

But I don't feel like wand'rin, no ma'am, none of that today


Don't feel like wand'rin', wand'rin; I can see the sunrise fine from your room

Don't feel like wand'rin, wand'rin; don't need morning air when I smell your perfume

Don't feel like wand'rin, wand'rin; I'd rather stay in the bed for another dawn with you"




(Spoiler for inspiration! It took half a year to get back to this, and Nathan's been through so many changes...)






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