A Voice Silenced

Fan Content

Written on November 28th 2017 by Laurent Duhamel

He threw the Banshee’s mane on the floor with a decisive but obviously tired gesture. If the motley’s entrance earlier on didn’t get the court’s attention, the numb thud of the inanimate object made on the soft purple carpet did.

There they stood, dusty and tired: The Troll Lady Cassandra, the Eshu only known as Longstride, the Mouse-like Pooka Lisette and the Redcap Bartok, known as the Balladeer. In this instance, the Redcap was the one standing at the front of the group, for it was he who had been thus tasked to investigate the Haunt of the Glass Tower. Should he be triumphant, he was set to receive knighthood.

But the quest was an attempt on his life, and that of his motley. Everyone knew this. The ruling nobles of the duchy had had enough of these rabble-rousers, these miscreants who attempted jest and song to sow the seeds of rebellion.
His eyes fixed on the Duchess’ own, Bartok knelt, taking off his dark red jester’s hat, his breathing slowly becoming more regular but remaining somewhat noisy. The Redcap’s slim and elongated form remained prostrated thus for what seemed to be long minutes before the whispers and half-spoken words slowly died down.

“And so, Bartok… you return.”

It was the Chamberlain who spoke, his nasal voice projected through his round frame. The elegantly-dressed Boggan was small in stature, but looked as is he was as large as he was high. A squire quickly took Bartok’s prize from the floor and brought it over to the Chamberlain who in turn took it in his round hands to show it to his mistress. The Duchess barely glanced at it. The remnants of the motley’s triumph seemed mere annoyance to the woman’s entourage as it was taken away.

Lisette began shifting from one foot to the other nervously as Lady Cassandra seemed to root herself into the marble floor, tensing her powerful muscles ever so slightly. Longstride’s eyes seemed to become as dark as the night sky as he smiled calmly, his face ever-obscured by his hood. This was what they had been waiting for: the big reveal, the pivoting moment, the milestone from which their journey would move forward in a new direction.

“You have defeated the Haunt of the Glass Tower, for which you were promised knighthood. Let it be known that the Duchess honors her word, always. Rise and step forward, Balladeer”, The Chamberlain announced.

Bartok rose, his tall, thin frame moving forward. The Duchess slowly stood and descended from her throne. A squire, naked blade resting on the palm of his hands held upward, followed her graceful steps towards a man for which her disdain was barely concealed.

And for a moment she stood with her eyes fixed on him, the Redcap’s frame dwarfing her by a good head and half. Bartok, if he had wished to follow courtly etiquette, would have knelt at this point. Yet there he stood, as straight as he could, his gaze matching the noblewoman’s. Whispers died as tensions rose in the room. The Duchess’ disdain for him was only matched by his own challenges at her tyranny.

“Bartok, The Chamberlain said with an insistent sneer, you are required to kneel”.

“I will not”, answered the Redcap.

It was well-known that this motley had no love for The Duchess. But to see them so overtly and directly challenge her authority in her very presence and in her own court, no less, was truly shocking to behold. There was a gasp of surprise and confusion in the room. Courtesans put their hands to their mouth, wide-eyed, while more knightly individuals put hands on their weapons.

“I will not kneel, I will not yield. I will not accept an honor even if it is promised and due, even if it has been rightfully claimed by deed and merit”, Bartok continued.

The Balladeer’s tongue, even in speech and not song, was by far his favorite weapon. As skilled a fencer as he was, it was with words he preferred to do battle, and his voice was a potent mixture of music, honey and fire.

“I will continue to sing your tyranny, my lady, and the people will continue to listen… but now they will know that our intent is pure, our purpose clear as crystal. My voice will oppose you, always. My songs will attack you, always.”

The assembled court started rumbling. Weapons were itching to be drawn, insults already hissed in venomous whispers. Lisette smiled broadly, the Pooka quickly looking around in excitement. “In other words, we’re not gonna sell out! EVER!”
The Duchess raised a dark velvet-gloved hand and there was immediate stillness and silence. When she spoke, her voice was cold yet hypnotizing.

“Very well, Balladeer. If you would sing to hurt me… sing no more.”

She made a cutting gesture with her hand, her gaze fixed on the redcap’s.

Bartok’s eyes widened suddenly, and he fell to his knees, hands holding his throat. He yelled, he screamed. His voice was no longer the sweet sound of satin quality that came from his mouth, but the panicked caws of the crow, the raspy chirp of the toad, the terrified and raging squeal of the bleeding boar. The Duchess then took the sword from her squire’s hands and gently, almost lovingly, tapped the flat of the blade on each shoulder then the top of the Redcap’s head.

“You may rise, Sir Bartok. Let it be known… I always keep my word” she said with a devilish smile.

Lady Cassandra drew her blade, her colossal crimson frame immediately near to protect her comrade in arms as The Duchess stepped back, surrounded in an instant by her knightly bodyguards. Lisette dove down on her knees to cup Bartok’s head in her hands, the Pooka in panicked tears, desperately trying to find a way to help her friend.

Longstride the Eshu, fourth member of the motley, stepped forward and in a series of fluid gestures took a golden powder from the hidden pockets of his deep blue robes. He then spilled the substance to the ground in swirling patterns. As blade met blade with Cassandra and Lisette defending the still prone and roaring Redcap, he joined his comrades.

In an instant, a whirlwind of dust and sand enveloped the motley and their adversaries and seemed to consume them wholly. The tornado then moved in a fury around the room, rising to the ceiling before disappearing completely, the people contained within along with it.

To this day, The Duchess still rules her land with a cold, velvet-smooth tyranny.

The Balladeer can no longer sing. With one hand, The Duchess gave him a title, and with the other, she took his voice away. A pale, vile mark circles the redcap’s throat, an ever-present reminder of the curse laid upon him for his motley’s defiance. It is say they roam the lands, exiled and wounded, waiting for the hour at which they will take their revenge.

He has been called many things since then: Bartok the Black Knight, Bartok the Outlaw, Bartok the Ill-Spoken, Bartok Song-Scar, Bartok the Ogre, Bartok the Crow… but no title hurts him more than the one he carried the longest.

For without his voice, can he truly still be the Balladeer?

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