The capitol of Andoran was bright, warm, and had a great and open plaza called the Field of Concord. Mostly used for mercantile pursuits, it also had a number of places where performers would play, some prepaid and some professional buskers.
Juliette d’Aubigniy was one of the latter. Her instrument case lay before her as she played her fiddle, sang, and danced (sometimes one, sometimes two, and a few times all three at once). She had gathered a rather decent crowd, her auburn locks swinging about as she performed, and she was pleased with the amount of money she had made.
She finished a song, bowed, and bent to collect her earnings. As she did, she heard a call.
“Hey! Wench!” She sighed, at the sound of the voice. It was not one that spoke in tones of friendship, but of challenge. She looked up to see a man in a polished chain shirt, holding a shawma medieval predecessor of the oboe, in one hand. She rolled her eyes, finished collecting her money in case this was a distraction to steal it, and then stood.
“How may I be of service to you, Your Rudeness?” she addressed him, the musical tones of Galt in her voice, and his eyes narrowed. She scanned him again, and saw in his features and in the pendant he wore the unmistakable appearance of a Chelaxian. Which probably meant he was also a devil worshipper, like most of Cheliax.
“This?” he pointed where she stood. “Is my spot. I have been here for two weeks. And now I arrive and find you have taken my spot. Move along or I will have you thrashed!” Two men in the distinctive plate armor of the Hellknights moved up to flank him. Their swords weren’t drawn, but they were holding the hilts and looking interested. The rest of the crowd had pulled away from them, regarding them with no small amount of fear. (They held no legal might here, but still, large men in plate armor with great swords inspired in most a healthy amount of respect and worry.)
“Ah, ma foi, I checked with the registrar this morning and you had failed to pay! I paid, and so this is mine for the day. However, as I am a fair and generous performer, I offer you a choice: tomorrow I will withdraw to a different place, or I will give you this place for one-quarter of your take for the day. There! Am I not equitable and willing to take trouble on myself?”
One of the Hellknights nodded, his bulk creaking slightly. “I find that to be reasonable. The law does not in fact require such an offer. We are no longer involved in this, especially,” he said, raising his voice as the other bard opened his mouth to complain, “the law here does not in fact allow one to claim a location if they have not paid for it. Habit is not law.” They took two steps back from the circle.
“I won’t stand for it!” the other bard declared in petulant tones. The mood of the crowd turned against him, and he seemed to sense it, as he turned to Juliette. “I challenge you to a duel!” The crowd’s mood changed again, anticipating what would come.
“Ah, so be it. Do you wish to duel with blades or music? I am Juliette d’Aubigniy, and I will give you choice, as I am quite sure I am your superior in both.” The casual boast made the crowd laugh.
The other bard’s face reddened as he sneered, trying to cover the embarrassment with rage. “I am Sorigan Ivici, and I choose music. My skills with a shawm are unsurpassed in Hinjia port city in the Empire of Cheliax!”
“Ah, my friend… we are not in Hinji.” She brought her fiddle up, and smiled, a little cruelly. She spun the bow, laid it on the strings, and began to play. He looked surprised, brought up his shawm, took a deep breath, and began his own performance.
She began with a song that seemed almost terrifying, and he started his own piece, low and droning, then rising up. She felt a slight push from the sound, then changed her music to a lighter, jauntier tune, and started to dance as well. He didn’t quite dance, but began swinging and stepping rhythmically (as opposed to the visibly dance-like movements of Juliette). Their music shifted, slowly, from a competition to almost a duet, fiddle and shawm no longer clashing but complementing. They circled each other, moving closer together. Their music became closer, until what they played was two parts of the same song, and they got closer and closer. The crowd held its breath as they spun and went back-to-back, and as one, finished the song.
There was a moment of quiet, and the crowd, now larger than it was, began to cheer and applaud, and coins began to cascade into Juliette’s case.
The two bards turned again to face each other, catching their breath.
Sorigan lowered his shawm. Juliette lowered her fiddle.
And as the cheers doubled, they locked lips in a sudden, sweaty, joyful kiss.
THE NEXT MORNING:
“Well,” Juliette said, laying on the rather disarrayed bed, “that was certainly a performance.”
“The music or afterwards?” Sorigan asked, cheekily, then winced. “Madame, I think I need a healing spell on my hips.”
“Both,” she said, reaching over and running her hand over his bare chest. “And not yet,” she said with a smile. “I’d hate to have to repeat the spell,” she added, moving closer.
“Well,” he said, “one more encore can’t hurt.”
In the taproom of the tavern, the cook rolled his eyes as the song began for the second time that morning and the fifth time since the day before.
“Bards,” he said dismissively, turning back to the morning’s bread making.
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