Minstrel Cycle


The swift plucking of chords forcefully interrupted Arianna’s dreams. Groaning, she begrudgingly lifted herself off the bed, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. As she squinted, she saw the figure she’d been dreading for weeks, Her Minstrel.

Dressed in an outfit that looked more at home in a Renaissance Festival than the middle of Pittsburgh, this man smiled the cheesiest grin he could muster, all while playing his lute.

“Good morrow, lady Arianna! As you awaken from your bless’d slumber…”

Arianna jammed her fingers in her ears. For a moment, all was silent. But one glance at her clock told her that she had to get to work. Removing her fingers from her ears, she resigned herself to her fate.

“…she comes to her senses! My fair maiden, Arianna, you know full well you can’t escape from my melodious chords!”   

Pretending as though this man, The Bard, were nothing more than a particularly annoying fly, Arianna quickly dressed and ran out of her house. She slammed the door behind her, hoping to hear a dull thud and a lack of lute playing. Sadly, the only sound that came from behind her was the door gently opening and that irritating plucking of strings.

“Though she tries to slam the door upon her loyal Bard, still I remain, happily for a long while, recounting her life in song!”

Whenever her Bard showed up, he wouldn’t leave for four days, maybe even a week. Arianna had grown used to ignoring him since he first showed up when she was a teenager, (“Our chariot is broken! Ere we are late into town we shall journey on foot. Onwards, fair Arianna!”), but it was everyone else’s reactions that caused problems.

“I mean, has no one ever seen a Bard before?” Arianna muttered. Walking along the street, she saw a few other women with long, tired faces. As expected, trailing less than a foot behind each woman was a minstrel carrying an instrument of some sort.

“Hey, Arianna!” Arianna turned to see her best friend Melanie bounding towards her. Not far behind was Melanie’s Bard carrying his Lyre.

“Hey Mels, how’s your day going?” (“Thou dost taketh my breath away, lady Melanie. Ah, what friendship between these two maidens most fair, lovely Arianna and beautiful Melanie…”)

“Not bad, actually. I see you’ve started your Minstrel Cycle today?”

Arianna groaned. “Yeah, and he couldn’t have picked a worse time to show up.”

“Well, it’s not like we can pick when they come and when they go.”

“God, I wish we could. I don’t have time for him to follow me around, I’ve got things to do.” (“Busy, busy, Arianna, working the whole day through…”)

“All of us do, but it’ll get better!” She looked over at Arianna’s Bard. “How’s yours going so far today?”

“Hellish. He’s pissing me off and it’s not even noon, yet.” (I cry your mercy, fair Arianna! Prithee, I only live to recount your adventures!)

“Really? Haven’t you gotten him the belt yet?”

Arianna cocked her head to the side. “Um, Mels, he has a belt. See, right there? It’s black and twists around his leg?”

Melanie shook her head. “No, not his normal belt. See this red belt around my Bard’s waist?” She pointed to a red belt that nearly blended in to his dark blue tunic. “It’s called a B-Control.”

“B-Control?” (“Ah, a new discovery and a new opportunity for knowledge!”)

“It’s short for ‘Belt Controller’. I just got him on it a few weeks ago and he’s been quieting down ever since! He’s not nearly as annoying as he was before. He even changed his outfit from last time!”

At that moment, Arianna’s Bard decided to jump in front of them, also blocking traffic in the other direction.

“Good’ol Bard hailing from the Melanie name, was given a belt one day. A belt of deep red, spun from the choicest of silk, he wore it most nobly and proud! His tunic grew blue, his hat did too, and they were adorned with the finest of bronze. From the belt he did tire, and he and his lyre, grew quieter as the weeks drew on. But, verily so, does our Good’ol Bard play on!”

Melanie’s face grew pink as her Bard bowed to the surrounding onlookers. As if on cue, he began strumming his lyre.

“Fair Arianna’s Bard, well met, good sir! Thou art a strapping young lad, adorned in a tunic as gold as the sun, with the blood of thine enemies underneath. My hat is a majesty of blue and black adorned with a soft-blue feather that would make the most beautiful peacock envious. Thou is a humble Bard, unlike I, you doth wear a simple yellow beret upon thy head, to match thy bright intellect. Come all, sit you down and have a laugh, come join us on our merry way! Tis true my songs have quieted while I am adorned with this belt, but verily I will play on for my fair lady, Melanie! I thank thee, fellow Bard, for upholding my good name in the wake of these onlookers! Pray, thou must continue playing thy lute!”

“A fair request, good sir! I shall recount a tale of the lovely maiden, Arianna…”

Arianna’s face turned the same tint as a ripe tomato. “Stop singing! Argh, can’t you be quiet for one minute and let these people go by?”

As the crowd dispersed, a young man said, “Someone seems a little agitated today. If that’s your minstrel, then I guess it’s your time of the month?”

“Go screw a toaster!” (“Brave miss Arianna quarrels with the ruffian, thou roguish unchin-snouted malt-worm, thou venomed hasty-witted mammet!”)

Melanie grabbed Arianna and dragged her into the nearby park. Arianna planted herself on a bench, burying her face in her hands. Melanie sat next to her and rubbed her back.

“Need anything, darling?”

She let out a heavy sigh. “No, I’m good, thanks.” She lifted her face up and looked behind Melanie. “Hey, isn’t that Fontine? Hey! Fontine! Over here!”

A thin, pale girl looked over at Arianna and Melanie. She gave a small wave before trying to move on. Sadly for her, both Bards pranced towards her while playing their respective instruments.

“Come along, Miss Fontine, and join our merry band!” As Arianna’s Bard sang, he skipped around Fontine in circles.

Melanie’s Bard joined in as well. “Come, my fair lady! Join Miss Melanie and Miss Arianna as we make merry song and dance on this splendiferous day!”

Fontine’s face turned scarlet as she slowly made her way over to Arianna and Melanie while being circled by both Bards, still singing and dancing.

“Sorry about that Fontine,” Melanie apologized. “Even with the belt, he can still be a handful. At least he didn’t try to serenade you for an hour!”

“It’s okay. I was just surprised, is all.” The two Bards left Fontine and returned to their original places beside Arianna and Melanie. Both were still strumming their instruments and humming softly.

“At least they’re quiet, now. Fontine, where’s your Bard? I haven’t seen him in like, forever.” Arianna looked around the park. “Is he hiding, or did you manage to magically get rid of him?

“Neither, actually. I just, haven’t seen him for awhile.”

Melanie frowned. “Haven’t seen him? How do you just not see him? They always show up, on time or not, at least once a month. How can you miss guys like this?” She points to the two Bards, who have now synced their humming and are in harmony.

The color drained from Fontine’s face. “I think he’s just late, is all. He’s not always on time, anyways, so I’m not really worried about it. Besides, what if he doesn’t show up this month? I wouldn’t mind not having a flute playing in my ear for five days.”

“Yeah, well I wouldn’t mind not having an idiot singing in my ear whilst playing a lute, but it’s not like I’ve got a choice.”

Melanie nodded. “Maybe if you gave your Bard a B-Control Belt, then he wouldn’t be as big of a problem. Your Bard wears a lot of forest green, right? A red belt would totally match his outfit! You wouldn’t even notice.”

“Well, see, I was thinking about getting him one of those belts, but my parents wouldn’t let me. They said a red belt with his green tunic wasn’t ‘natural’, and that I should just deal with having him around as he is.”

“Hey, I love your parents, but that’s a little ridiculous. I mean, if you could make your Bard easier to deal with each month, wouldn’t you do whatever you could?”

“And it’s not like the belt is expensive, it’s really cheap and some places even give it away for free! You do have to get it repaired and resized every month, you know, so it keeps working, but it’s worth it, I swear!”

“I believe you, Mels, I really do, but my parents said no! I still live with them and I can’t just get my Bard that belt, I’d think they’d notice him wearing it!”

“Fontine…” Arianna whimpered.

Fontine’s eyes began to fill with tears and her face flushed. “And now, they’re going to notice that my Bard isn’t here! I mean, I could play a YouTube video of flute players, but that won’t fool them for long! They’ll realize that my Bard’s been missing for nearly a month now and they’ll start questioning me and…and…” Hot tears streamed down her face as she began to sob into her hands.

Melanie and Arianna both hugged Fontine as tight as they could. Fontine’s cries were the only sound in the park; even the two Bards had grown silent at Fontine’s outburst.

As Fontine’s sobs quieted down, the soft plucking of strings began. The three women looked up to see the Bards gently humming a tune and strumming their instruments while swaying back and forth.

“Do not cry, dear Fontine,” began Arianna’s Bard.

“Do not sully your sublime face with these tears.”

        “And what is this kerfuffle over having no Bard?”

        “A Bard is never late,”

        “Others are simply too early.”

        “He’ll come back.”

        “Sooner than you think.”

        “So fear not, my lady.”

Both: “For a fair maiden such as yourself, beauty and worth cannot be measured by lack of a lowly Bard!”

Fontine let out a squeaky laugh and wiped away her tears. Arianna and Melanie both hugged Fontine, who hugged back, this time with a smile on her face.

“Guys, I don’t know what I’d do without you. Seriously, thanks.”

“Anytime Fontine, we’re always here for you.”

“I’m just, so worried about what my parents will say when they find out my Bard hasn’t shown up…”

“Well,” Arianna began. “How long has your Bard been gone for?”

“He’s about three weeks late. He’s always been fickle about timing, but now…”

Melanie began pacing. “Well, has he been this late before?”

Fontine thought about it. “Y-yes, once. A few months after I started dating Ron…” Fontine trailed off.

“But, he came back?” Melanie asked. Fontine shook her head ‘yes’.

Arianna stood up. “So, he’s probably just super late again!”

“Indeed he is!” Both Bards shouted while pointing in the distance.

In the distance was a man playing a flute as he skipped towards the group.

The two Bards played with gusto as though they were playing for a king. They sang in unison: “The pirate Bard of Fontine returns, late as always! You devilish rogue, why must you torture this girl so? Still, with your earthly pants, long black boots, and a hat to make all others jealous, you still return!”

Fontine, overcome with joy, rushed up to her Bard and threw her arms around his waist. He grinned and hugged her, lifting her off the ground and spinning her around before gently setting her down.

“See? Told you!” Arianna said.

Fontine had tears in her eyes, but her smile glowed like a radiant sun. “Why were you so late? I was having a panic attack waiting for you!”

Fontine’s Bard bowed, and danced around her while playing his flute. The other two Bards joined in and Fontine’s Bard stopped playing momentarily. “My dear Fontine, how sorry I am to leave you without my company. Please forgive me, for I am but a lowly Bard who knows no better.”

Melanie laughed. “Well, at least they’re good at apologizing.”

“Yeah, they are.” Fontine looked at Arianna and Melanie. “Thanks guys, for making me feel better.”

“Any time!” Melanie said.

“I’m so sorry you had to deal with our Bards serenading you for so long,” Arianna said with mock annoyance. Arianna’s Bard removed his hat as he bowed to her.

“That’s alright. But seriously, you two are the best.” Fontine checked her watch. “Oh, shoot, I have to get to work now. I’ll see you two later, alright?”

Melanie smiled. “I have to get going, too. Hey, how about we celebrate tonight? We can all meet up for drinks after work. Say, around 7?”

“Sounds good, see yinz later.” Arianna stood up and waved goodbye to Fontine, Melanie, and the two Bards.

Both Melanie’s Bard and Fontine’s Bard bowed as they sang, “I bid thee farewell, lady Arianna and her loyal Bard!” As they walked away with Melanie and Fontine, Arianna could hear the faint sound of the lyre and flute, playing perfectly with each other.

Arianna looked up at her Bard, smiling. She ran up and gave him a quick hug, which he gleefully returned. She lingered, then let go and said, “Come on, you, let’s get going.” As they were walking, Arianna noticed that he was oddly quiet. Her Bard, though still smiling, wasn’t playing his lute. “Hey you, play something, will ya? It’s too quiet.”

“Huzzah!” The Bard immediately began plucking at the chords on his lute, playing an upbeat tune. “Onwards we stroll to our next destination. Verily, we are a merry pair!”

“Maybe not ‘merry’, but we most certainly are a pair to behold.”