From the Prologue, at the end of the Bards’ Festival the bard of bards is asked by the bard brethren to perform The Legend of Jerrod…
Reginald no longer competed in the festival. He didn’t have to. He was unanimously revered throughout the kingdom as the best of the best. The brethren’s Master. There was not a peasant or nobleman who did not know of him. Just his physical presence quieted any gathering; without saying a word or strumming a note on his mandolin everyone would stop what they were doing.
Each night, as dusk set on the festival, the private festivities of the bards’ brethren roared into excitement. Their mandolins and lap harps lay close by while they drank and listened to each other’s songs in the Minstrel’s Inn. They sang captivating ballads of love, romance and valor. The older songs recounted magical adventures from when the kingdom was young. It was considered a great complement when the brethren joined in to sing with a performer, but the truly remarkable songs quieted the crowd like a prophet quiets the turmoil of the masses.
On the last night of the festival there was not an empty wooden stool or open bench seat in the Minstrel’s Inn. Many of the musical patrons stood around listening to the songs as each, novice and journeyman alike, took a turn spinning tales to the crowd from the center of the inn’s wooden floor.
The men were dressed in colorful cotton shirts under tight fitting leather vests or jerkins. Their knee high boots covered tight fitting pants. Their assorted caps had long feathers sticking out or drooping behind their backs, most of which were ostrich or pheasant, but occasionally a peacock feather could be seen among the crowd. The rare female bard wore a bodice or waist cincher rather than a vest; skirts were never worn. Traditionally, the bards had been warriors. Proud of their heritage, they all wore pants, but the female bards might wear ankle high boots in place of the more traditional knee high leather boots designed to protect the lower leg while riding or fighting. Following tradition all of the bards continued to wear long swords or daggers, if not both, which hung from their wide leather belts despite the fact that their lives had become much more civilized. The time for gallantry was gone, dissipated into the air like the smoke from a candle that has burned down to its base.
Reginald’s age showed even in the twilight of the evening sky. His thin white hair was pulled back into a ponytail. He hunch a little while he walked, taking very small steps toward the inn where he struggled to step from the street through the doorway into the dark room beyond. A large fireplace, lanterns, and candles spread around the room lit the crowded hall to an acceptable level, but even in the dim light the patrons could see Reginald’s hands trembling as he walked.
The brethren fell silent at the sight of him entering their preferred inn. The crowd of minstrels parted as the subjects of a beloved legendary king did so long ago. Quietly Reginald moved to the center of the room where Lawrence, Reginald’s prize student, grabbed a stool that had been quickly vacated. The anticipation was like that of children who watched a baker take their favorite treat out of the oven; the brethren knew how exquisite the pending experience would be. For most, hearing a song sung by Reginald happened but once a year.
Lawrence was a young man, tall with a square jaw and dark hair. It was rumored that he was the son of a nobleman. He wore the purple cavalier cape reserved for noblemen which seemed to substantiate the rumor, but no one knew where his family lived or what nobility they might or might not be. Under the purple cape Lawrence wore a white cotton shirt with bellowed sleeves, tight black pants, and the traditional high leather boots. The end of his rapier seemed to dance beneath his cape as he assisted his master to the vacated stool. Although he had a commanding presence, Lawrence was gentler with Reginald than his appearance would suggest. His admiration for the old master was apparent with each move he made.
A thin and hurried apprentice, James, accompanied them. James’ long dirty blond hair fell to his shoulders in loose, natural curls, obscuring his slightly deformed face. He rushed around nervously trying to predict what would be needed next, paying little attention to his own needs. His clothes, though untarnished, were more common. His boots were unpolished. He wore a common heavy dark winter jacket to stay warm. He was altogether unremarkable and was easily overlooked in a crowd. However, the inquisitive observer would quickly realize that every step he took, every movement he made, was dedicated to Reginald’s comfort.
Lawrence helped his teacher remove the heavy coat that provided protection from the cold night air. Reginald wore a leather tunic over a gray wool shirt. The unbuttoned collar of a cotton undershirt worn to add more warmth could be seen underneath. As Reginald removed his feathered floppy hat with his trembling right hand, the oval tiger’s eye in the ring on his little finger glistened in the light. The golden ring was formed as the body of a dragon cradling the gem. The dragon’s tail formed the band of the ring which wrapped around his finger. The crowd wondered how the old master with his trembling hands and apparently frail strength could even play a single note as they watched Reginald reach for his mandolin.
The back of the beautiful instrument, which was made of dark brownish-red wood, curved like half of a watermelon. In contrast, the wooden front was pale, almost white, with a delicate inlaid silver design that glistened in the dim light of the tavern. The short neck extending from the mandolin was made of even dark, nearly black wood that accented the instrument’s ornate silver fret bars and keys. It was breathtaking.
Reginald hunched over the instrument, unable to sit up straight on the stool. His eyes seemed to strain as he peered into the crowd. Surely he couldn’t sing?
“My lord,” a somber voice respectfully began, “The Legend of Jerrod, if it pleases you?”