Friday, May 31, 2013

Prompt: The Harp at the Watchtower on Top of the World

Jens considered resting at the spring where he stopped to drink and pour cool water over his head. Three days climbing in the mountains, and no sign of the mysterious music that haunted his village. The passage itself was easy enough. The forests were ancient, with thick crowns to shade the deep leaf litter.

He wondered if there were ever lightning strikes or fires. He had seen no sign, but he would be in big trouble with no breaks to head for shelter if a storm blew into the Karstorn Pass. Clouds tended to bounce back and forth across the mountain ridges for days at a time.

There had been no animals on the ground or in the trees since he started his climb at the base of the Pass. Jens missed the racing foxes and flying squirrels that had kept him company until then. He still kept a wary eye out and swept the ground with his walking stick for hidden vipers. They lazed in the leaves and struck without warning packing a whallop that would kill him within minutes, this far from a healer. He had a few small charms in his pack, but he couldn’t afford any miracles.

Leaving the spring, Jens continued uphill, and within two hours he reached the treeline. As the view opened up around him, he drank in the cool mountain air and the sight of the entire Pass spread out below him. He’d never been so high. He didn’t think anyone had. No one from his village, certainly.

But looking up, he saw that someone had indeed been higher. There was a lone watchtower at the bare peak of the mountain. He thought it would take another hour to reach, but distances were deceiving in the high mountain air. The tower was stone, square, and tall. It had no adornments that he could see. The door must be on the far side, because there were only small windows staggered up the two walls in his view. If the pattern was true to the paintings he’d seen of the ancient Karstorn Keep, then there were four sets of windows per floor around the tower. He could see six, no, eight pairs on this side. Eight stories tall. Why would such a tall tower be needed way up here?

Jens shielded his eyes and looked across the Pass to the other peaks, searching for another tower. He couldn’t see any. Perhaps he would see watch flames at night. He shook his head at the mystery and started up the mountain meadow to the tower.

An hour later, he found he had still farther to go. He sat on the open ground and drank some of the cold spring water and ate a little jerky he had left from the last inn. While he rested, the first notes sounded from the tower above. Jens jumped to his feet, spilling the water from his dromedan. He began to run toward the tower.

The music continued. Hard notes, slow, one by one at first, then running faster together as in a dance. Jens found himself breathing in time to the music even as he pelted across the meadow. Reaching the tower at last, curiosity warred with caution, and he slowed to turn the corner. Leaning against the wall overlooking the open Pass was an enormous harp, intricately carved in gleaming blond wood and standing taller than Jens’ head. As he stared, he saw there was a balcony of sorts across the tower, the height of the harp’s broadest reach. Behind the strings of the harp, a small, wizened man ran back and forth. His long white hair and beard framed his face in a wild halo, as unkempt as his threadbare tunic and pants. Completely focused on his task, he played the harp with astonishing skill.

He saw Jens and stopped with a loud twang on one string. They stared at one another without speaking for a long moment, then he clapped his hands and jumped down from the balcony to the ground in one graceful leap. “Well, that’s that, then. I’m off. Stick to the main schedule and watch for any signs of trouble. Good luck!”

Before Jens could overcome his surprise to say the first word, the small man had moved with startling speed to cross the meadow. By the time Jens managed to call after him, he waved a hand without looking back and disappeared into the trees. Jens stared after him, then up to the harp, in disbelief.

Now what?

Dogs in house:
Houdini, Brindle

Time writing:
40 minutes

May word count:


  1. Prompt: The Harp at the Watchtower on Top of the World

    There was music. Rholla first thought it was drifting in from the village at the base of the watchtower, but while it did appear to waft in the windows, it grew louder as she climbed. She resisted pausing on a landing that she hoped was at least halfway up. She was fairly certain the message she carried was not urgent, but anyone at the top could have seen her horse arrive and would know how long she took on the stairs. She had been a King's messenger for only three weeks now, and did not want to give the impression of lassitude already.

    She reached a second landing on the spiral stairs -- maybe only one third left to go now? After a third landing, she finally found herself behind a worn wooden door with brass hinges. The music was coming from behind it: soft and melodic, it sounded like a waterfall might sound if it was made of bells. She removed the message tube from its holster in her belt and knocked quietly.

    Too quietly: no way could someone hear that over the music. She knocked again, louder, but no one came. She pushed experimentally on the door. It swung in.

    The music stopped. A soldier stood up from behind a harp, incongruous in his leathers and sword beside the shining instrument. The harp was as tall as he was, with gilded inset leaves swirling across its frame.

    The soldier smiled. "Message?"

    Rholla handed across the tube. "Your music is very nice."

    "Lots of time to practice up--" He cut off abruptly. He stood stiff, face angled down so she could not read his expression. "Do you know what's in here?"

    "Of course not," Rholla said. The messengers would never break the confidentiality of what they carried.

    "Damn him leaving it to me," the soldier said. He looked up, his face showing a strange mixture of sadness, anger, and...humour?

    Time writing: 25 minutes