A young page came out of the Throne room, and looked around. Barniel walked to him. “Are you looking for me?” he asked.
The page looked up at him and nodded. “Yes, the king is ready for you. I do hope you do better than the others, he is getting upset. So far, none of them have been very good.”
“All the better for me, then,” Barniel said, smiling. “Lead on, and wish me luck.”
They entered the throne room, and Barniel approached the throne, bowing to the King. “I am Barniel, son of Laustian of Bein Gabhail.” (For Llola ‘Ben Gavel = hill farm”)
“Welcome, Barniel. If I remember, you were the boy who found our former Bard and cared for him when he died.” Urnath said, nodding in response.
“Yes, Sire, I had that honour. And I have worked long and hard to keep my word to him, that I would keep his memory and music alive, and care for and use his mandolin and instruments, and play them, to the best of my ability. How well I have done, I leave to you to judge, as is right, for there is none other who can do so.” Barniel bowed again, and waited.
“I am counting on you, Barniel, as I have not found anyone who can replace my Perciander. “ He pointed. “There is his harp. I would like to hear you play one of his compositions on it, after you do something of your own on the mandolin. I have heard good things of you. Show me.” He settled back in his throne and smiled.
Barniel bowed again, swung the mandolin around and plucked the strings. He played and sang a song he had written, telling how he had found the dying Bard, and what had been said and done between them. He told of how, after the Perciander died, he had been unable to walk away leaving the body unhonoured, for the crows to pick at. And he told of how deeply he had been moved by the experience, and renewed his vow as he placed the sword and amulet by the head.
When he was done, he stood for a moment with his head bowed. When he looked up, Urnath was wiping his eyes. “There is no need for you to try more, you have the post. No one has moved me like that, since he left us. Would you now do us the honour of playing more; whatever you wish, only I would like to hear some of his songs again.”
Barniel stared for a moment then bowed once more. “Thank you sire, I am deeply honoured, and I will endeavour to live up to the level of perfection he set. There is one piece of his that I love, but have never been able to play on a large harp. If you will allow me to, I would like to play it now. It is the song he wrote in praise of your father when he became king, and I think it is fitting for you, too.”
Barniel played, then, for hours, with brief breaks for sips of wine. Urnath finally called a halt, and commanded that food be brought. “Tonight, you will rest. Tomorrow there will be a grand celebration, in memory of Perciander and to welcome our new Court Bard. Rooms have been prepared for you. After you have eaten your fill, Aubin will show you the way to them. Tomorrow, if you wish, you can return to your family and tell them of your new status. And tell your parents, if they both live, that they will be honoured guests at the feast.”
“Thank you, sire. My parents will be thrilled. My father has a limp from a wound he received in that war, but he has been well able to do all that is needed to run the Gabhail.” Barniel gave a small bow, and followed the others out to the great hall, where the evening meal was set. He was overwhelmed that he had succeeded so easily, and ate quietly, trying to take it all in.
Aubin turned out to be the young page whom he had spoken to before, and he was almost bursting with excitement. “Oh, sir, I am so glad you were successful. I have never heard anyone who could sing and play so beautifully.” He led the way to the Bard’s rooms, a comfortable sitting room, and a sleeping chamber with a large feather bed. Barniel stood and looked around, stunned.
“Are you sure this is all for me?” he asked Aubin, who grinned and nodded. “I am amazed. Thank you, Aubin, for your help, and your good wishes.”
Aubin gave a little bow. “It is my honour to serve you, sir. There is warm water there for you if you wish to wash. If you need anything else, just pull the bell pull and I, or another page, will come. Good night, sir, rest well.” Aubin slipped out the door and closed it quietly behind him.
Barniel walked through the two rooms, investigating everything. There was a large chest, with several robes neatly folded, and other garments stored in it. Everything a man could want was there, ready to hand; even a small carafe of wine, and one of water. Sighing, he slipped out of his clothing, washed and pulled on a loose pair of cotton drawers. He blew out the candles and settled in bed, thinking about what his life would be like now. As he slowly fell asleep, he breathed a prayer of thanks to the Gods. Mother would be so proud!