Part 6 of Rob Donovan’s free serialised story set in the same world of Frindoth as his newly released book “Ritual of the Stones”. In this story we follow the journey of Pewtory the Lesser bard as he travels to Lilyon to witness the Ritual.
Pewtory the Lesser Bard part 6 - Jacquard the half-hearted.
Tragedy. Tragedy is the answer. Tragedy is what changes a man from a ferocious warrior and fearless leader to having the fight knocked out of him. Our noble King was promised to a beautiful princess. Miranda was her name and it was said that she was truly the epitome of beauty. I cannot say with certain as unfortunately I never met her. Folk said her hair was as radiant as the sun and her manner as genteel as a butterfly.
The two met and instantly fell in love. They were married shortly after Jacquard succeeded his father on the throne (for his father did not approve of the match – but that is a story for another time).
Their marriage was a happy one. The King had quelled all troublesome areas to his Kingdom and Frindoth lived in peace. Miranda bore the King a son, prince Althalos and the two doted on that boy more than any parent has ever doted on their child.
If only all stories had happy endings, then I could gladly leave King Jacquard’s story there, Alas, I do not make up these stories, I only tell them in their truest form,”
Pewtory paused as the comment drew some sniggers from the audience.
“The Prince was only two years old when the news broke. Miranda had been riding Clipper, her favourite horse. She often took the mare out of a morning after breakfast. Clipper had been startled by a snake on the path and had reared suddenly. Despite being a skilled rider, the queen was unable to steady the horse and tumbled to the ground where her head fell against a rock and her feet tangled in the stirrups.
The impact shattered her skull and killed her instantly. Clipper disturbed by the commotion bolted from the scene, dragging the queen behind the rocky road. When the horse was finally subdued by one of the Queen’s handmaidens, Miranda was a battered mess. Her once pulchritudinous features were destroyed. The handmaiden was said to have later killed herself, so haunted by the images of that gruesome day.
The King was inconsolable. He became withdrawn from public life, a recluse almost. He delegated more and more responsibility to his chief advisor Jefferson whilst he grieved. As a result Frindoth suffered, as although Jefferson was a wise man who had advised Jacquard and his father before him, he was now old and made many strange decisions.
It took Jacquard half a year to engage with the public again and even then it was for essential appearances. The warlords that governed the regions grew restless. The sympathy they felt towards their King grew thin as they began to fill ignored.
People have short memories and many of Jacquard’s heroic deeds were forgotten. Slowly, he returned to his duties but it was said he was not the same. He was a man that was going through the motions.
That was until he became obsessed with the Ritual of the Stones.”
Pewtory sensed the shift in mood in the room as the Ritual was mentioned. Smiles fell from people’s faces. The Ritual occurred every twelve years and in a few months it would occur again. The ceremony of the stones where twelve unfortunate individuals would find a stone upon them, marking that they had been selected to participate in the Ritual was even closer.
Pewtory hoped that whilst travelling to the capital city, Lilyon where the Ritual took place he would encounter one of the stoneholders so he could interview them and write a song about what could potentially be their last days.
“During his reign he had presided over just one Ritual. It was early on in his reign and the sacrifice broke his heart. It was nothing compared to the devastation to his soul the next one would cause him.
There are children present so I will not go into details but I am sure many people here will recall the tragic events of that day.”
Pewtory paused again. Several members of the Inn swiped their eyebrows and pointed their index fingers to the ceiling. It was a variation on an ancient superstition to ward off evil. The atmosphere had turned melancholy and whilst Pewtory wished to evoke all emotions, he wanted to the audience to go away feeling happy.
The last Ritual had been one of the most distressing in recent history. A young girl was chosen for the sacrifice and was viciously murdered by the Gloom. The Gloom did not discriminate between age or sex and took its time devouring the girl. Many of the audience were unable to look, some were violently ill. Despite this, people would still turn up in the thousands to witness the next Ritual.
“Needless to say,” Pewtory continued now eager to progress the story. “the King was as distraught over the event as anyone. The horrific event sparked a new vigour in him and he was more determined than ever to discover a way to stop the Gloom once and for all. It was a fool’s quest, many King’s in the past had undertaken such a mission and they had all failed.
This did not stop Jacquard. He commissioned scholars, witches, warriors and bards to discover the origin of the Ritual. He himself followed long dead leads, venturing beyond his region for the first time in years. He maintained in close contact with the parents of the poor victim, vowing to avenge their daughter.
Then one day, about a year later. He just stopped. He was riding through Meadowmead on a quest to track down an ancient brotherhood when he ordered his party to stop. He stared out across the fields ahead of him for a few minutes as if in a trance. He ignored the questions from his knights enquiring whether he was feeling well and then without saying a word, he turned his horse around and guided it back towards the White City.
That was it, no explanation, no reason but it was clear King Jacquard’s search for the answers to the Ritual was over.
He still continued with his reign but his actions were perfunctory now. There is no one that could argue he did not rule justly but his enthusiasm, his zeal had gone. He no longer tackled each problem with the same vigour he displayed before. He had become Jacquard the half-hearted.