“Malik the Bard” | Chapter One | Written by S.A. Moore - Mishmashers Mishmashers

“Malik the Bard” | Chapter One | Written by S.A. Moore

Chapter 1

Bards

 

Malik slid his fingers down the lyre in a slow rhythm. For the last seven hours, he had played to a rowdy, drunken crowd, and even his practiced fingers cramped. He leaned over to his left and whispered, just barely audible over the music, “How much longer until we can stop to eat?”

Abrie was left no time for a reply.

Play something faster you, prissy!” yelled an overly drunk farmer interrupted by a smashing pitcher.

Malik sighed, as without warning Abrie strummed a quicker tune. Malik had no choice but to follow his lead.

The drunken gentleman slammed his half-full glass onto the table in joy, spilling the contents onto the tabletop without worry. A small barmaid scampered over and wiped at the ever-growing sop. Malik wondered why she even bothered.

Then he looked farther into the room and saw the innkeeper glaring at his help. The man would lead with a rough hand, there was of little doubt to that. Most of these girls would be his daughters, nieces, and cousins, but that did little to stop the harassment.

Another girl brought the raucous fellow another drink. In return, she received a nice pat on her bottom. Malik tried to hide his disgust. It mattered little anyhow; no one watched his face.

He had previously thought a muffin would have been nice, but when it hit him upside the head, he decided there were more pleasant ways to enjoy them.

Malik was no better off than the women. These farmers were jerks, and there was no way around it. Abrie would berate him all the way to the next town if he stopped playing. Malik knew other tricks to win a situation like this.

He waited for the next tempo change in the song and played an even faster beat. Abrie said nothing. The loud drunk in front slammed his beer down again.

That is the spirit you sissy!”

The barmaid was there again in a flash, her rag more than saturated with beer. Another woman came with another mug. The cycle would continue. Malik played faster. Another man, in a drunken stupor, tried to get to his feet to dance to the tune. In his haste, he knocked over the table with his legs. He fell to the floor.

The loud drunk, in the front, let out a hooping holler of laughter. Malik and Abrie did not stop playing their song. Others joined in on the laughter. The man stood back to his feet, unaware of the excitement he caused. He tried to dance again, but his legs would not follow his command. He fell into a rather brutish looking fellow who did not take it too kindly. The brute pushed the drunk sideways, and he ended up knocking into a barmaid who spilled the cup of another farmer onto an unexpecting bearded gentleman. Not wanting to hit a ladybig surprisethe man swung at the drunk who toppled like a sack of flour. The crowd laughed. Malik and Abrie continued to play louder.

The best bet, when drunk, is to know when the fight is lost and stay down. This drunk had lost that advice somewhere after his fifth mug. He stumbled to his feet and brought his hands up, ready to box. The bearded man chuckled; ready to take his seat before the drunk lunged forward, missing the bearded man by more than a foot. Instead, he stumbled forward and knocked the beer from the loud, drunken farmer in the front. Unlike the bearded fellow, this man was ready to fight.

You dit!” he screamed, pretending he had not spilled a beer all night.

The barmaid hesitated to rush in this time. The scene grew out of control. Malik tried not to let the smile that tugged at his cheeks show through. He played faster, as the farmer lunged forward, pushing most of his mass into the stumbling drunk’s chest. The man, unable to stand without the push, fell on his backside. It seemed like the fight would be over before it started. Malik felt the smile fading, but he continued to play. The loud farmer turned as if playing to a screaming, cheering crowd. A fourth man interjected himself into the mess without warning.

You touch my wife again and I will kill you,” he screamed, slamming his chair over the farmer’s head.

The smile returned. The man’s wife ran over, alarmed by her husband’s reaction.

Malik stopped the song in mid-strum. Then he started singing a song, for the occasion,

Oh! The fights are long, and the drink is strong!

Come along! Come along!

The fights are long, and the drink is strong!

Come along! Come along!

He let his fingers fly across the lyre strings. Abrie stopped playing. Malik had already dug his grave; he may as well get some enjoyment out of it.

A real man never goes down! He stands back up and gets off the ground!

Any thought the farmer had to stay put and take his licking, faded with the words. He stood back to his feet and punched the husband in his nose. The wife turned and screamed, but the farmer tossed her aside, ready to go in for the kill.

Malik continued to sing.

Come along! Now come along!

Malik failed to notice the innkeeper had moved all the way up to the point where his meaty hand landed on Malik’s shoulder. Malik was no stranger to fights. It was all part of being a bard.

The Wayward Bend no longer welcomes you here,” the innkeeper said.

Can we get our payment first?” Malik asked.

The innkeeper showed no amusement. He wrapped his fingers around Malik’s throat, squeezing rather tight.

Malik tucked his lyre away to the side. He would risk his limbs for a good time, but the lyre was harder to repair. The innkeeper paid no attention to Malik’s hands. He turned to Abrie. Everyone turned to Abrie when Malik got out of hand.

Old man, get your pup under control,” the innkeeper said.

Abrie replaced the spare lyre in his rucksack. Abrie never played his own lyre, something about sentimental value. Malik stopped asking when it was obvious he would never get a real answer about it.

I think we are done here, Malik,” Abrie stated.

Abrie stood and dusted off the front of his green travel cloak. Abrie had a way about him that Malik could never mimic. Nothing seemed to ever get under his skin. No brash reactions. No emotional outburst. Malik could honestly claim Abrie had never even cursed around him. He was the closest thing to a Saint Malik could claim to know.

You are no longer welcome here, remember that,” the innkeeper said.

Malik felt the fingers on his throat relax a smidge. A smart man would have let it be and moved on. Malik was not smart, at least not now.

So, we can still expect a room?”

The innkeeper did not take his eyes off Abrie. That seemed like a win for Malik, but the innkeeper’s forehead bounced off Malik’s jaw and that seemed like a hard loss. Malik stumbled back, free from the grip, but his jaw hurting something fierce.

Now the entire bar was up and moving around. Fights had broken out in all the small pockets and corners. It was funny how quickly a town decided it hated one another. A symptom of meeting no one new; easy to hate when only the same people came around daily.

Abrie scooted over as the innkeeper became distracted with the hustle of his inn being taken apart.

Best be on our way then,” Abrie said, in a normal voice that sounded much like a whisper in the commotion of things.

Malik did not question. He bent and put his lyre in the case and closed the lid. Abrie pushed forward and found the small holes in the fighting. Malik followed until they were outside the inn. The night outside was peaceful. The air was cool but not cold on his face. Malik pulled the cloak tighter, more for the masking effect.

What are we going to eat now?” Malik asked, looking around the town.

There would be another inn about twenty miles in any direction, but it was already well into the night. Innkeepers and city officials were never too kind on late visitors.

Abrie opened the sack holding his lyre and let Malik take a quick peek inside. There nestled next to the old lyre were two pieces of goat and a hard loaf of bread.

I do not suppose anyone will miss it right about now.” He gestured back toward the inn.

Malik turned and saw the fight had spilled over into the street. The innkeeper screamed until his face grew red. Malik almost thought about feeling sorry for him, but his jaw still felt rather ginger.

We will camp in the valley pass for the evening,” Abrie said.

Malik would have been furious at himself, had the roles been reversed. He would have riled at the thought of passing up a hot meal and a soft bed. Abrie was a different breed though. He would swell his chest with a deep breath and say, “Nothing like a fresh-aired night under the stars.”

Malik sighed at the thought, but it was his own fault.

***

Abrie picked a spot in a small copse of trees to camp for the night. Malik let Abrie do most of the picking. Not that Abrie would have listened to him if he tried to do otherwise. Abrie had been a bard for much longer than Malik had been alive. Both were apt to question as to how long it was.

Malik had been young, really young, when his family had been hunted like sheep. He could hear their screams still, but the image of their faces was long gone. The Tempre Warriors had done that. They had killed his family without regard. Malik did not understand why.

The Tempre Warriors were never what you would call kind souls, but their violence was usually filled with revenge, hatred, or need. To the knowledge of Malik, his people had never slighted the warriors, they had never warred with them, and being a poor folk, they had nothing that anyone could ever claim to need.

You brush Callie and Sally,” Abrie said.

Malik nodded. There were only two things forbidden by Abrie. The first do not slack on chores. Number two, never feel sorry for things that cannot change. Malik could never change the past, and he knew it. That never stopped him from feeling sorry about it. It also never stopped him from plotting the careful revenge.

Come on, Malik,” Abrie reminded him.

Malik shook the thoughts. Time and place, he reminded himself.

Callie and Sally were the real backbones of the bard duo. Sally was old, gray, and near the last legs of her life, but she refused to die and Abrie refused to leave her behind. Abrie always referred to the old mule as the wise compass. He said he trusted Sally more than any navigation tool made by man or god.

Time for a brushing, you old git,” Malik said under his breath.

Have you not had your fill of being hit tonight?” Abrie said, appearing beside him.

Malik jumped back, heart hammering in his chest. “I hate when you do that!”

Abrie showed no humor. “I am sure you could hear if you would shut up for a moment.”

Malik thought about replying, but there was no use trying to exchange banter with Abrie; he would always lose.

I have the fire ready,” Abrie said and took over brushing Sally. “You finish Callie and then we can eat.”

Malik would have rather been kicked by Sally than to deal with her counterpart, Callie. Malik turned on heel and slogged over to the younger of the two mules. Callie carried most of their supplies. They strapped anything too heavy for Malik and Abrie to carry to her back. Malik set out to take it all down, attempting to stack it neatly. The entire time Callie brayed in his ear.

Do you ever stop?” Malik asked her, not bothering to whisper this time.

That is your mule,” Abrie threw another slight at him.

I think she is stupid,” Malik replied.

Callie brayed louder. Malik took his brush and dug into her coat.

Stupid or not, she carries your clothes, food, and sleeping gear. It would be in your best interest to stay on her good side,” Abrie said.

Malik again bit his tongue. Abrie had a way with words Malik may never come to know. Callie brayed with every stroke, and Malik sped through the task. Afterward, he tethered her to a close range of trees, where she could eat upon the grass. He also put her just far enough to get some relief from the constant braying.

The fire roared when Malik sat down beside Abrie. Abrie offered him up a plate, and they sat eating their rations for the night.

Inn food was a hit and miss while traveling across the country. Some people around the world could cook. Others were left without the skill of an edible bite. This inn, for all its loud drunks, violent keepers, and crazy patrons, really had a decent array of food. The goat meat was juicy and a little sweet, and the bread was moist and fresh. It left Malik in a much better mood than he had started in.

After dinner, Malik got the opportunity to clean up the dishes. It was an opportunity he received every night.

Malik finished without complaint; it did no use to complain. Finished with the chores for the night, Malik picked up his lyre. For all the troubles and hardships, this was his peace. The music was how he escaped and forgot about the day. It was how he could leave it all behind. Just to forget what it was he was even worried about for a moment. He strummed a few times before finding the tune he wanted.

Beauty in the world

There are many wonders

To behold and see

There are many plunders

To take hold of me

Beauty in the world

Sometimes it is hard to see

But always, beauty finds its way back to me

Malik did not notice Abrie scoot in beside him. He strummed a few more times, but lost the moment in the wind.

I see you have been working on something new,” Abrie commented.

Malik usually let Abrie work on the songs. He could hear the tune or the words in his head just fine, but Abrie was a master. Abrie knew every word to every song. Abrie knew every inn in every town. He had traveled for so long Malik would have bet, even with the most willful of men, that Abrie knew everything there was to know.

That was why on a normal night he would have hesitated to talk with Abrie about his ideas.

Tonight, Malik had already stuck his foot into his mouth several times. What would one more time matter in the grand scheme of things?

Been thinking a lot about my parents lately,” Malik said, knowing full well he had broken rule number two.

Abrie was quiet for a moment. He looked up into the night sky between the copses of tree limbs above. Malik fell into the view with him. No matter how many nights spent beneath the stars, it never ceased to amaze. They sat there in silence for so long Malik almost forgot they had started a conversation. Then Abrie gave a cough and cleared his throat.

You know, inspiration comes from many places. My rules, passed from the Saints, say that you do not fret on what you cannot change,” Abrie paused. Malik knew the speech of letting sorrow consume you. Abrie always said that once sorrow took hold, it would root into your heart and become who you were. Maybe that was who Malik was now. That was why he held it so close the revenge that would come at his hands. “However, forgetting is a mountain that takes a skilled climber to reach its peaks. You can hear the sorrow in the song, but you can also hear the passion. I suggest you think of what is ahead, Malik. Try not to become ruled by your emotions.”

Easier said,” Malik started.

Abrie held up his weathered hand. “Words are but an empty bowl. I know the saying you speak of, but the mind is strong, Malik.”

The mind is not the only thing that must be strong, Abrie. My parents were not stupid people. My village was not filled with dunces. Still, they died. They were killed without emotion. Is that who I am to become?”

Abrie looked away, and Malik knew the conversation would be over.

Temper. That is the meaning of their name. The Tempre Warriors are fueled by only emotion. Even if you know not what it is.”

Abrie stood and grabbed a stick from the ground beside his feet. He shoved it into the fire and created sparks of light that floated in the air like summer bugs.

I think it would be best if we caught up on our sleep. A little extra rest tonight will get us a little extra distance tomorrow. We can hit the next town by sun fall. This time we might sleep in a bed,” he said, turning to Malik and giving a chuckle.

Malik watched Abrie walk toward the tent. Malik almost thought Abrie had flustered for a moment. He thought maybe the unflappable Abrie had been frustrated. Then, just like that, he smiled and headed off toward bed.

Malik thought about staying up and working on his song a little more, but the moment did truly seem dead. A wave of tiredness came over him and he tucked his instrument away.