She fiddled with the violin strings, plucking at them and making them sing. Eyes turned in her direction from the cells, but she ignored them. The notes were comforting.
The dungeon doors opened with a rattling of keys that peaked everyone’s interest. People rose to the bars, hoping that the jailer had come for them. She plucked more notes as the heavy footfalls reached her and stopped before her cell.
“The king wishes to speak with you.”
She lifted her head and watched as the jailer opened her cage. The chains rattled as she stood, and he began to lead her out of the dungeon. Her legs shook from misuse as she moved through the space. A couple of weeks ago, she would have wondered what the king wished, but she no longer cared.
As she passed the prisoners, shouts rang out begging for freedom or, at least, mercy. All their cries were ignored by the jailer. He guided her up the steps as the door closed behind them. The silence that followed made her fingers pluck the instrument faster.
The throne room was crowded as she entered, the chains audibly rattling as she moved down to the throne where the king sat. She stood with her head down and clutched the violin’s neck, letting the instrument hang down before her like a drawn sword.
“I have called you here because I have heard of your powerful gift of music.” The king’s sapphire eyes were like ice as she lifted her head. “I want you to demonstrate.”
She lifted her chin, her fingers itching to do their work despite herself. “What do you expect from such a performance?” she asked, weary defiance creeping into her voice.
“Just play your instrument,” the king said dismissively, waving a hand.
She frowned and brought the violin to her chin; the horsehair bow she pulled from her belt and placed it gently on the strings. Pausing, she listened to the crowd around her until she felt a certain tug and began to play.
Somber notes filled the hall. People paused, breathless at the beauty of her music. The tugging became more insistent and slowly, she took a step towards that pull.
The crowd parted, giving her a wide berth as she passed. The urgent pull led her to a line of pillars. As she stepped closer, the bard spied a person standing in the shadows. She finished out the final notes of her song and let them echo throughout the hall.
She made a step towards the pillar revealing a woman in a dark dress with golden threads. Upon her hand was the sigil of the royal household and the face which demanded respect. But the bard didn’t miss the tears forming in the queen’s eyes.
Quickly, the bard took to one knee. “Your majesty.”
The woman nodded her head just as a single resounding clap echoed through the room. Everyone turned to see the king stepping forward. “An interesting display. Most impressive.”
The queen throws him a dark look. “I hope you’re happy.”
“I am very pleased.” He rubs his hands together, a certain predatory joy in his eyes. “It looks like I have found my next court bard.”
The girl’s heart stuttered. It was enough to keep her out of the dungeon, but she wasn’t anywhere close to free.
The king stepped forward and pulled her to her feet. “You have found the ” He smiled at the darkly dressed woman, who shot daggers in his direction. “You will prove useful to my court.”
The bard swallowed at his strong grip upon her arm.
He released her and waved a hand for her to follow. “We have much to discuss, my new musician.” With a snap of his fingers the iron chains disappeared.
She would have leapt for joy if it weren’t for the new weight that settled around her neck. In the place of cold metal, invisible bonds yanked her onward. Her fingers plucked the violin to the rhythm of her racing heart as she walked out of the hall.