The story so far: While hunting for Chypa the Stranger, Tollon posed as a bard, which now means he must perform before the prince of Tanifisay. But first, the other contenders take their turns . . .
The first “bard” proves to be of wretched quality. The prince sternly sentences him to be a galley slave, remarking offhandedly, “that it will improve his lung capacity.”
The second, the more confident foreigner, gives a decent performance. The prince actually applauds, albeit with no great enthusiasm. And then he orders the bard to serve at the court of Baron Gerstomphantisiaca. The courtiers break out into laughter, and even the Mistress of the Robes allows a slight smile to cross her face. Inacha quietly informs me that Baron Gerstomphantisiaca is known both for his poverty and for being tone-deaf. The prince has sent him half a dozen bards before this.
Tari is up third. The prince hails him from his throne like a long-lost companion. “Ah, my favorite scoundrel, here to prove my thesis that since all bards are scoundrels, all scoundrels can be bards. What have you for us, Tari?”
“Something I hope will please Your Majesty and my mistress, um, I mean that gracious lady, the Mistress of the Robes.” Tari recovers quickly from his stumble.
But not quickly enough. The prince turns to the Mistress of the Robes, and asks, “Did you hear this arrant thief and braggart claim you for a lover?”
Now the Mistress of the Robes sits on the king’s left hand, slightly lower down, in a plain chair that does not compare to his throne. She has generally looked bored and disinterested up to this point. Now she sits up and looks Tari over. “I do not think so, my lord,” she replies. “But let us find out.” She points to the guards. “Seize him.” And when they do, she says, “There is one way to be sure. Strip him.” Which the guards do.
The Mistress of the Robes looks Tari over. She shakes her head and turns to the prince. “I do not recognize him.” And then she sits back and relaxes.
“Very well. Guards, release him. Tari, begin your performance.”
Tari, who has withstood this humiliation without flinching, starts to gather his clothes.
“Hey, what do you think you’re doing there, Tari?” the prince inquires.
“Getting dressed, my lord,” replies Tari.
“You must be getting hard of hearing, Tari. I ordered you to perform. I said nothing about getting dressed first.”
That rattles Tari. He starts to speak, stops, looks longingly at his clothes, and then drops them to the floor. He looks away for a few moments, and then begins a song.
Tari actually has a good voice, loud, clear, and controlled. Alas, his wits are not quite clever enough to match. He’s not doing an original composition, but a heroic ballad called “The Fair King’s Voyage.” And he’s massacring the meter, as well as the pronunciation of all the longer words. The effect is quite comic. People start tittering. The tittering spreads. The prince, who has been frowning, catches the mood and can’t help but smile. When Tari hits the famous catalogue of heroes, he is stumbling so badly, he calls the heroes “whores.” The catalogue unintentionally turns into one double entendre after another.
Finally, the prince, who by now is laughing, calls a halt. “Cease, Tari. I swear, now I understand why the Lady Mircalla was so jealous and why she wanted to see her lover Sir Edmund bloodily hewn.” He turns to the Mistress of the Robes. “Have you ever heard such an absurd performance?”
She hasn’t even cracked a smile during the performance. In dismissive tones, she answers the prince. “Quite. It was so well done one might almost wonder if it were deliberate.”
The prince will have none of it. Turning back to Tari, he says, “You’re no bard, Tari. But I could use a fool, and you could use a change of clothing. Here, steward, take him and fit him in motley, and find a room for him in the castle.”
Tari is all effusive thanks. And as he turns to go, he drops me a wink and a smile. It seems the Mistress of the Robes was right.
The master of ceremonies announces, “Randuscon Elioscar Tenlennith voy Scarnta, and his assistant Inacha sy Ian, from Marsgoland.”
(To be continued . . .)