Music and Quality Entertainment
by Dan Suptic
(Winner, 2nd Place, 2014)
A world-famous musician brings
her renowned talents to Isaacsburg, giving the city an unforgettable performance
"So, are you planning on telling me why we're skipping class today, Meagan?"
The younger of the two girls trailed nervously behind the older. Skipping class this late in the school year was bad enough already; it was even worse that it was a Friday, the day where students were tested on the teachings of the prior week. But, Meagan had been insistent (as she always was), pulling Kariann along despite her protests, a mischievous gleam in her eye as she blatantly dodged Kariann's questions (as she always did).
"Oh Kariann, it's just too beautiful a day to be locked up in a stuffy, boring schoolhouse, don't you think?"
Kariann rolled her eyes at this. For one thing, it was a perfectly useless non-answer from her capricious friend, and for another, the current time of day required them to sneak through tight alleys and behind buildings. There were enough people out and about that the main streets were consistently populated, but it wasn't quite dense enough that the two girls could blend into the crowd, unnoticed. Their school uniforms also created an issue, as they certainly weren't designed with any thoughts towards inconspicuousness or stealth.
"Meagan, come on, if we get caught again…"
Kariann jumped a bit as her shirt sleeve caught on something for a second. She was always very nervous and quiet – she'd moved to Isaacsburg from a small village in Winnow just a few years ago, and everything was so loud, fast and busy here. A year younger and a hand shorter than Meagan, Kariann sometimes felt a bit overshadowed by her friend's open and social personality. She was happy that Meagan was her friend, though – Kariann had trouble fitting in to city life, but some kind of affectionate pity caused Meagan to decree her to be her best friend. The two had grown very close in the last few years, despite their differences.
Kariann struggled to keep up with Meagan, keeping her eyes out for any trouble, trying to stay relatively well hidden. She moved in quick little steps, arms drawn in, hunched a bit, making her appear even shorter than she was. Other than her height, she was quite average in nearly all other aspects (except for her slightly pale skin, and her vibrant, rainbow-colored hair, which she kept dyed a simple dark brown).
"Pshaw, 'if we get caught'. We'll get demerits and a slap on the wrist at most – it's not like we're doing anything illegal."
Meagan strode through the back alleys of Isaacsburg with excited confidence. Her posture was excellent as she took long strides towards wherever their destination was. She smiled as they looked around corners, hummed happily as they took pauses to hide, and almost laughed every time they got close to getting caught. Even in this silly, childish behavior, she held an air of grace. Her long limbs took her forward in practiced, smooth motions, and her lengthy, unreasonably blonde hair whipped behind her like a golden cape. Her frame held hints that she'd be a stunning woman someday, and Kariann fully understood why all the boys swooned around her.
In some ways, her radiant presence was a blessing to plain Kariann – she could lurk around and contribute to social gatherings from the sideline, letting Meagan take the lead while she observed from her comfort zone. Meagan was happy to have Kariann around too. When everyone else was away, Kariann offered Meagan tutoring on subjects that vexed her, and told her all sorts of stories that she wrote. Meagan felt honored that she was the only one who's ever heard them.
"Nothing illegal, except for truancy. Come on, Meagan."
Meagan smiled and pretended to sigh.
"Fine – I just want to go pick up some tickets to a show at the university amphitheater. My dad said they'll be selling them today at noon."
Kariann raised her eyebrow, responding, "All this for some tickets? I know you're in love with Damien from the Old Reed Hill String Quartet, but they do shows here like, every week."
Meagan smiled, stopping to turn and face Kariann.
"They're not tickets for the Reed Hill Quartet. They're for Lillian. Lillian Lyra," Meagan emphasized.
Kariann's eyes widened.
"No. No way, she's touring in Sindra for the rest of the year, at least. And then, what, Dreed after that?"
Meagan shrugged, saying, "Well, my dad is in charge of booking entertainment at the university, and he says she cut her Sindra tour short. She's kinda taking a vacation here, just doing the one show, before going to Dreed to continue the tour. That's why my purse is so heavy," Meagan shook her handbag, which jingled heavily, "and yes, before you ask, I'm buying your ticket too."
Kariann was speechless. Lillian Lyra was simply the best musician in all of heaven's grave. A chance to see and hear her was worth a few demerits from their teacher. She followed Meagan, quicker now, as they continued forward.
Meagan went on, "So, this is why we're being sneaky. The city bellman will be announcing the ticket sales at noon, so, we need to get to the seller right away, and we need to avoid the city-OOPH!"
Meagan and Kariann were stopped in their tracks, running into the hardened leather armor of the city guard. The wearer of this armor grinned, grabbed an arm on both of the girls, and let out a low chuckle.
"Well, looky look here, a couple stray rats in the alleys. Looks like we need to throw you back in the nest, right? Heh, nice of you to help me out – captain was worried I ain't pulling my weight, so, I guess I'll just pull yours."
Kariann whimpered and Meagan cursed. Of all the guards in Isaacsburg, it had to be Sean who ran into them. Only a few years out of school himself, Sean was a large, rude bully. In school, he was always in trouble for pulling girls' hair and starting fights with the other boys. Once he'd graduated, he joined the city guard, where his bullying earned him a comfortable income. Most people assumed that the only reason he ended up in the guard was that he was too stupid to make a living as a criminal.
"Let us go, Sean," Meagan spat. He chuckled at that, as he began to walk them back towards the schoolhouse.
"Now, lessee, why would I do that? Two truants will get me a good bonus from the captain. I doubt you got anything better to offer if I'd let you go, right?"
Meagan smiled just a bit as she said, "Fine, whatever. Let's go back to school, Kariann. We can pick up Lillian Lyra tickets afterwards. I'm sure my dad will save us a couple of good ones."
Sean stopped, his wicked grin smoothing out as his brow furrowed.
"Wait, Lillian Lyra? She's comin' here? I ain't heard of that."
"It's true though," Meagan continued, "I mean, my dad is in charge of booking the amphitheater, and he said she's making a stop here. Tickets on sale today, noon. But you know, I'm sure you could get tickets after your shift, once you're done taking us all the way back to school, talking to the teachers, your captain, doing the paperwork, and all that. I mean, you'll be standing pretty far back, but you'll still be able to see her, technically."
Sean paused, thinking slowly.
"So, tickets on sale at noon which is… soon. Shit. But, your daddy told you where the ticket seller's settin' up, right?"
Meagan nodded, and then yelped along with Kariann as Sean suddenly took off, dragging the pair deeper into the city.
"Come on," he said, "I gotta stop by the watch house and nick some cash from the officers' strongbox, then you're leading me to the ticket seller, right? We all get nice seats, you don't tell anyone I pinched the coins, I don't tell anyone I ran into you two playin' hooky. Right?"
"Right," said Meagan, as she and Kariann jogged to keep up with Sean.
"Alright then, let's go, OFFICIAL GUARD BUSINESS, MAKE WAY!" Sean shouted, almost running through the streets of Isaacsburg as the two young girls excitedly followed.
Lillian was… relaxed. For the first time in a while, she felt truly relaxed. The recent mess in Sindra (and the consequent cancellation of her tour there) had been quite stressful, but for the last week, she'd been enjoying the Rinden countryside from the window of her stagecoach, travelling from city, to town, to village. She had decided to schedule a single show on the continent, a small way to show her appreciation for the unexpected vacation.
They'd be in Isaacsburg before nightfall. There'd be a night of sleep, and then a busy day of preparation for the show the following evening. But for now, all Lillian needed to focus on was enjoying her nice glass of elven wine, and watching the low hills of the countryside pass by.
She'd instructed Edgar to keep a moderate pace in their travels. He sat in the driver's box, doing his best to let the horses set their own lazy trot, resisting the urge to rush them onwards. Edgar was a large man; bald, muscular and with coal-black skin, much darker than anyone else Lillian had ever met. She paid him well, and while his title was 'Driver', his size and demeanor said 'Bodyguard'. She didn't know much about him, to be honest, but she enjoyed his quiet company and the safety he provided.
While Lillian stared out the window, the stagecoach hit a bump in the road, jostling her. She let out a half grunt, half yelp as a small shock of pain shot through her back. Being a worldwide celebrity was definitely a young person's game, and Lillian… well, she'd been having a long rivalry with age for some time now.
Back in her adventuring days, she had been lithe and toned. The last decade had begun to soften her out, trimming sharp angles into gentle curves. Her skin had started showing signs of wear too – wrinkles and lines had begun to form, and incidental bruises and scrapes stayed around longer and longer. Her eyes were underlined by a perpetual shade, and every day, a few gray hairs had to be plucked from her scalp.
It took more and more makeup to get herself ready for the public, and the expensive dresses she wore on stage seemed to always be getting tighter, requiring constant alterations.
She'd thought that the life of an entertainer would be a bit simpler and safer than the life of an adventurer, but her overwhelming success had landed her more and more work. Word of her talent had spread far and wide, demanding both farther and more frequent travel. Back then, 'Lily Lightfoot' would have loved the constant, hectic pace of this life, but now 'Lillian Lyra' found it exhausting.
Still, she loved it. She loved going up on stage, alone, nervous and excited, the crowd looking up at her, waiting. She loved the cheering and the applause, seeing all the people so happy. That was it, really, the best part. She went out there, and the people were happy because of her. It was so touching, having that effect on the gathered crowd.
The money was nice too, no reason to lie about that, but Lillian didn't fuss about finances that much. She felt that obsessing about profits and cash flow would cheapen the whole experience.
Even with the short notice, she was certain that the Isaacsburg show would sell out. Her shows always did, every time. She closed her eyes as she finished her wine, picturing herself on the stage of the amphitheater, the crowd of fans spread out in front of her, looking up to her, hearts open and waiting…
She smiled at her daydream and looked back out the window. The sun was just now kissing the edge of the hilly horizon, and the walls of Isaacsburg had come into view. Lillian's heart raced – coming to a city where she was playing was like coming home, and her fans were like her family. There'd be a room waiting for her, warm food and cold drinks, smiling faces and open arms.
She opened her large purse, pulling out her hand mirror and makeup kit, touching up a few spots here and there. They'd be in town soon, and it never hurt to look her best, even for tired watchmen and old innkeepers.
Tomorrow, Isaacsburg would be lively and eager, people flitting amongst the streets as preparations were finalized. Finishing touches would be performed on the amphitheater as the seating area was readied. Lillian's name would be on everyone's lips as they went about their day, everybody trying to make time go by as fast as possible before her performance.
Expectations on her would be very high, but Lillian would, as always, meet and exceed them.
"I can't believe we're here. I can't believe we're going to see her in person! I can't believe we got front row tickets!" Kariann was nearly bouncing in excitement. Her normally shy and reserved demeanor had been overwhelmed by sheer teenage, girlish glee. Getting the chance to see one of the world's most renowned performers, an event that was likely a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, was simply too much for the introverted side of her personality to handle.
"Pretty cool, I know. Should be a nice way to end the school year." Meagan, still standing tall and confident, presented the attitude of being only mildly interested in the show. Kariann could tell that she was excited too – the curve of her smile and the focus of her eyes betrayed her calm presentation. While Meagan was more practiced at keeping her cool than her, Kariann knew her well enough to tell that elation bubbled just beneath the surface of her skin.
"Front row tickets; the guy's will never freakin' believe it! Good thing I ran into you mice, right?" Sean gave a wide grin to the two young girls, still dressed in his guard's uniform and leather armor. Kariann was amused that she and Meagan had been upgraded from rats to mice, from pests to pets.
Actually, Sean had been rather useful to have around this evening. He had run into the two girls again while they were making their way to the amphitheater. At first, Kariann was annoyed that Sean felt the need to tag along, but as they neared the concert site, the group of people had become thick and boisterous. There was a real danger that, even with their official tickets, they'd never get near the stage. But Sean had simply pushed forward, elbowing and smacking people aside, barking out simple directions like "Move!", "Git!", "Shove off!", and other, cruder commands.
The effect was impressive. The tide of people parted, allowing the trio to wade to the front where a large, dark skinned man looked at their tickets and pointed them toward their seats. Kariann was surprised at how oddly protective and helpful Sean was to those he felt were his companions. The strange thought crossed her mind that Sean would actually make a good husband, in spite of his undeniable personality flaws.
The sun had set. A university student had lit the lanterns and adjusted the mirrors necessary to light up the stage of the amphitheater. For the first time this evening, the crowd hushed into silence, anticipating, waiting.
This silence lasted only a few, short seconds.
The backstage curtains parted, and Lillian Lyra emerged. The crowd shouted and cheered, applauding already as the famous woman smiled and waved. She was gorgeous, stunning, beautiful almost beyond belief. Her long, dark hair was tied into a singular braid behind her, swaying as she walked around the stage, addressing the crowd in friendly greetings. Her face lit up the stage as much as the lanterns, soft, perfect curves, subtle colors in her cheeks and lips, a warm, honest smile, and sapphire-blue eyes. She wore an elegant, form-fitting red dress, which covered most of her attractive body. Kariann was enthralled, staring, heart racing with both envy and admiration.
Lillian was now at one end of the stage, leaning down and shaking hands with the lucky few who could afford front row tickets.
"We get to shake her hand?!" Kariann exclaimed to Meagan, suddenly nervous and shy again.
Meagan simply nodded and smiled as Lillian came closer. Kariann desperately wiped her hands on her skirt, keenly aware how much sweat a human being can produce in a small amount of time.
Lillian reached them, and Meagan took her hand, shaking it almost professionally while saying a friendly "Hello." Lillian replied the same, and then moved on to Kariann. Kariann took a breath and grasped her hand, only able to manage a stuttering "h-hi" as she shook it. Lillian gave a short, friendly laugh, responding in turn before walking by. Kariann looked at Meagan, the two girls smiling giddily at each other.
Sean had apparently come to the show prepared; as Lillian reached him, he somehow produced a rose from somewhere on his person, offering it to her instead of a handshake. "For the loveliest lady in all th' grave," Sean said, the cheesiest of cheesy grins on his face.
Lillian was apparently touched by his simple, obvious admiration. She took the flower, leaned down to say something to him, and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. As she moved down the front row, Sean stood there, mouth agape, his natural tendency to make snarky, rude remarks overridden by sudden, strong adoration.
A part of Kariann's brain said Well, I guess Sean's off the husband market now. Another part of her brain shouted PLEASE STOP USING THE WORD 'HUSBAND' WHEN REFERRING TO SEAN!
Lillian finished greeting the crowd and had now stepped back to the middle of the stage. There was a music stand there, holding several pages of sheet music, along with the case that held Lillian's musical instrument. Lillian set Sean's flower on the stand and adjusted the sheet music, swapping the order of some of the pages. Once satisfied, she turned to the case beside her. It sat on a stand of its own, so that she could easily open it while maintaining her regal posture.
As the crowd waited, Lillian Lyra unclasped the latches on the case.
The show was about to begin.
Lillian looked at the crowd from behind the music stand. They were eagerly waiting for her to begin, talking amongst themselves quietly and intensely. The sun had set completely, and no glint or glow of the previous day remained in the sky.
It was the perfect time to begin.
Lillian unclasped the latches on the case, opening it. The contents inside were mostly padding, but in the center lay a small cube, barely bigger than Lillian's fist. Made of some strong metal, the cube was extensively engraved by precise tools. Each side featured intricate, spiraling scripts and patterns, circling around a stylized eye in the middle.
She brought the object up, presenting it to the crowd who watched her with curiosity. Nervous chatter and confused murmurs buzzed through the mass of people as Lillian spoke several words in an obscure, ancient language.
The metal cube in Lillian's hand rose into the air a few inches, the engravings glowing slightly. After a couple of seconds of levitation, a sudden, sharp blast of light burst from the cube, momentarily bathing the stage and audience in brilliant luminescence.
The cube dropped in her hand as the crowd succumbed to the artifact's enchantment.
For the second time this evening, the crowd hushed into silence, mesmerized, held still.
This silence would last only a few, short minutes.
Lillian dropped the cube into the case and latched it shut, preparing herself for the next part of the show. It wasn't strictly necessary, but it helped hold the illusion together.
Lillian began jogging vigorously in place, intentionally working up a sweat, one that would be appropriate from making loud, energetic music. While jogging, she tossed several pages of the sheet music to the floor of the stage, to give the impression of a passionate performance. Lillian was careful to leave the flower on the stand – it was a sweet gesture from a nice fan, and this was all for the fans, after all.
The middle-aged woman was doing her best to look exhausted without actually overly exhausting herself. It would have looked ridiculous, if there had been anyone around to watch who'd not been put under the artifact's spell. Lillian Lyra, jogging and prancing randomly around the stage, was a show in and of itself.
Finally, she stopped, panting for breath, waiting for the enchantment to run its course.
After a few more seconds, sudden applause and cheers erupted from the audience as the charm wore off. Lillian smiled, waved, and said fond farewells as the crowd adulated her with shouts of "Bravo!" and "Huzzah!" and "Encore!" Lillian continued to smile as she picked up the case for her presumed instrument and exited the stage, meeting up with Edgar to be escorted back to the inn.
She could still hear the dispersing crowds of people loudly talking about her as she reached the inn. Lillian had paid enough in advance to ensure that no other rooms would be rented that night, so, aside from the innkeeper and his cook, (and Edgar, of course) she would be alone.
Lillian enjoyed a simple meal and friendly conversation with the innkeeper before heading upstairs to her room. Despite the fact that she'd only had those few minutes of intense exercise, she felt drained, ready for a long night's rest. Tomorrow would be the start of her journey to get back on track, heading to Lukesport to catch a ship to Dreed. Tonight's rest would energize her enough to tolerate more travel.
She met Edgar upstairs as the hefty man opened the rented bedroom's door for her. She stepped inside and nodded to her friend. Edgar smiled back, letting go of the door, his hands moving in a quick flurry of motions. Borrowed heavily from the silent portions of thieves' cant, Hand Signing Speak was a popular skill for those who were born deaf, mute, or in Edgar's case, both. It was Edgar's sole method of communication with Lillian, who'd already known the basics of the gesturing language when she met him.
GOOD SHOW TONIGHT. NO PEOPLE TROUBLE, GOOD MONEY, Edgar signed to Lillian, pleased with how smoothly the performance had gone.
Lillian signed back in agreement, and bade her friend and protector goodnight.
GOODNIGHT, L-I-L-L-I-A-N, Edgar signed, leaving her to her room, as he headed to his.
Lillian fought her way out of her constrictive dress, stripping down and slipping on her reasonably loose sleeping robe. She relaxed on her bed and, like every other night after a performance, she pondered her life and her situation.
She often wondered about the artifact itself; who made it, when, and how. It was obviously used solely for entertainment – the enchantment was broken if the user harmed or interacted with affected people in any way. It couldn't be used to consistently kill or hurt one's enemies, or even pickpocket them. Still, it was an immensely powerful item for such a simple effect. The cost in time, energy and money had to have been outrageous.
She didn't feel that she was cheating her fans, not at all. Sure, she was directly using magic to beguile them, but it's not like people complained about magic when a wizard used it to put out a house fire, or when a cleric wielded it to close life-threatening wounds.
Besides, she gave people exactly what she said she would. She promised them a couple of hours of musical entertainment, and in their minds, they experienced a couple of hours of musical entertainment. Simple.
Lillian yawned, settling into the comfortable bedding. As she slipped slowly into sleep, she gave passing thought to the idle questions and worries that tended to float around the back of her mind.
Lillian wondered how long the artifact would keep working. She wondered what she would do if it ever failed to work, or if someone somehow figured out her secret.
She wondered how long she would have the energy to keep doing this. She wondered how long Edgar would accompany her. She wondered if Edgar was older or younger than she was.
She wondered if she should be investing her money. She wondered if she should just retire on what she already had.
And, right before sleep overtook her, she speculated on the one question that she dwelt on, day and night, ever since starting her career as Lillian Lyra...
She wondered what people thought her music sounded like.