Zebulon

It was a nothing town.

But it had a bar, and sometimes…that’s enough.

The wind whipped through the empty streets choked with dust. A chill was present, but not enough to

Artist – Jae Liu

penetrate the thick jacket that the bard wore, bright blue collar pulled nearly to her nose. Elora Delcroft leaned into the wind, and ran through her set list.

The Doctor Dances, that’s always a favorite, even in a tiny spot like this. Then Measuring the Marigolds, followed by the short cuts of Western Shores and My Lady, She Burns off the Coast. I’m only here for a night, so I suppose I should pull out all the stops.

Elora chuckled into her collar. Zebulon was not the worst place she’d ever performed, but only if you squinted. The town seemed mostly empty, only a half hundred old men and women, a few exhausted families trying to pull in a meager crop. She had to be the first bard to wander into town in months, if not years — the barkeep’s eyes had widened like moonrise upon seeing her silver Harper’s pin. He had turned quickly away, and dabbed at his eyes. “Hard times, miss — we’d be sure glad to have you sing a bit tonight. I can’t offer you much, just a clean bed in my attic across the way, and all the stew and ale you care to eat.”

The half-elf scratched the tip of one pointed ear, loosening an earring from where it bit. She had watched from her window as what seemed the entire population of Zebulon had crammed into inn, heads bowed underneath the odd sign that swung at the entrance. A massive stuffed claw, covered with scales, ending in three chipped talons. The barkeep claimed it came from a dragon, Elora had smiled and allowed that it surely did.

A little boy waved as she approached, and ran immediately into the bar, yelling “She’s here — she’s here, the singer-lady’s here!”

I wonder why people still live here? So close to the Black Fog, and the fallen country of Gilead? Elora pushed through the doors of the Three-Toed Claw, into a throng of tired, but smiling faces. I must add some songs for the children, after the intermission. Songs that everyone knows and can sing along. Soppin’ Gravy, and Mune the Moonchaser, perhaps.

She whipped her blue coat off with theatrical panache, and slung it ably on a hook. Her lute case seemed to fly open as she made her way through the crowd, lute gliding into her hand free and easy. The room was silent as she mounted the crude stage, two tables pushed together , rude boards and fresh nails.

Elora said her pleasantries, and her mind and fingers loosened. Her voice fell into the opening patter that she had said a thousand times, she smiled at the crowd. This was why she took the long way — to find the tiny little towns where music was needed more than water in the Sarmadi Desert. The entire population of Zebulon was crammed into the tiny common room, but there was still space to spare. The barkeep pushed himself out from behind the bar, eager and smiling.

The bard noticed a man sitting at the bar, his back to the stage. Elora felt a prickle of professional irritation. This would be the finest show that Zebulon would see in many moons, and this lout was hunched over the bar, completely oblivious. She sniffed, at the pile of empty clay cups at the man’s elbow, the black bottle gripped in his right. A man losing himself to drink, no excuse to miss her art’s charms.

“I see there is one among you who is not a music lover!” She called, playfully. “Come friend, come and join us — please choose the first song I will play for all the fine people here assembled.”

The crowd’s attention spun to the man, and several people snickered. This man was clearly a stranger.

The man raised his head, and slowly turned to face her. He had a plain face, and ordinary features.

But his eyes. Elora’s fingers tightened on the lute. Shelyn protect me, his eyes.

Unbidden, the bard’s fingers began to move. An old, old tune spilled over the crowd and Elora sang, unable to look away from the man at the bar.
Company, always on the run
Destiny, oooh, and the rising sun
I was born, six gun in my hand
Behind the gun, I make my final stand
That’s why they call me
Bad company,
Oh, I can’t deny
Bad, Bad company

Till the day I die

Rebel souls
Deserters we are called
Chose the gun
And threw away the sword
All these towns
They all know our name
Six gun sound
Ooh, is our claim to fame
Bad company,
Oh, I can’t deny
Bad, Bad company
Till the day I die

 

Elora sang, tears running down her cheeks.

[With respect to Bad Company — wherever they ride.]

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