Like many beautiful things, I was born from sorrow.
Long ago, in a kingdom much like other kingdoms, lived a king and a queen.
One married for power, the other for protection. For a time there was a princess, who though too
young to speak trilled like a bird, much to her mother’s delight. But the princess died. From a
fall, the king said. Fatal because the stairs were stone and the child’s head still soft.
The queen was restless in her grief. She drifted through the gardens, a fading ghost
among the roses. The only time she stilled was to listen to the wandering minstrels playing
beyond the palace walls. The king noted this and the king acted. He called upon the musicians
in the land to compose a song in memory of their princess. The queen, the king declared, would
choose the winning song.
On the first day of the competition, the queen entered the great hall to a chorus of
murmurs. The people had not seen her since the death of her child. She faced them with eyes
like bruises and ascended the dais, her gown hanging loosely from thin shoulders. The queen lis
tened to song after song. Once, her eyes shone with unshed tears. Twice, her hands clutched the
heavy wooden arms of her throne, her fingers like pale twigs. Yet, she did not choose any of
The morning of the third day, a man from a northern town presented himself to the queen.
There was a tremor in the lutenist’s voice, but his fingers were steady as he strummed the strings.
It was a cradle song as gentle as a mother’s sigh and as dear as a loved one’s last breath. A vein
leapt at the skin of the queen’s throat. One man took notice. The townspeople were applauding
long after the queen declared the lutenist the winner. The king was pleased.
Once the great hall was cleared, the lutenist was granted a private audience with the king.
Before his fingers touched the strings, the king’s swordsman struck the musician’s head from his shoulders. The king’s laughter carried from the palace to the gardens beyond. Despite the
watchful eyes of her retinue, the queen could no longer feign interest in the roses. Her feet took
her down a path of stones. She began to hum, so quietly that only the butterflies could feel it, the
lullaby composed by the father of her child.
Like many sorrowful things, I am impossible to forget.
Sylvia Santiago was born in the Sunflower State and grew up in Western Canada. Her work has appeared in Uncanny Magazine, Liminality, Luna Station Quarterly, and elsewhere, and is forthcoming in Parentheses Journal. Find her on Twitter at @sylviasays2
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