Soyala and the Troubadour

The banquet lasted through the night, and Teirtu was exhausted, having played every tune he knew from his extensive repertoire, as well as with his wealthy host’s own musicians, his children, and finally the host himself,

None of them were particularly talented, but they weren’t awful, so he flattered them anyway, as sincere as he could without making his real thoughts obvious, though he suspected they already knew.

The weight of the purse he received for his night’s labor told him he’d been obsequious enough to please the man.

Some distance from the mansion now, he found himself walking down a smooth and pleasant path, and heard his stomach rumble. He decided to stop and eat some of the food the pretty kitchen girl had set aside for his journey.

In parting she also gave him a deep and tasty kiss, and rubbed the heel of her hand on the front of his pants to give him something to distract him from the fact that it was a cold morning.

Intrigued by her forwardness, he silently vowed to return, knowing deep inside he probably never actually would; kitchen girls were notorious, and he could bring to mind a few, but what good would it do him now.

A pleasant scene of dappled sunlight shining through the high summer leaves got his attention, and there seemed to be an opening that one could pass through.

He ambled through, calm, assessing his surroundings, delighted to see there was a slow moving river with flat rocks on the shore that was bperfect for laying out his small repast.

 A good place to rest and eat.

Leaving his small wineskin alone, his mouth still fuzzy with its taste from last night, he decided he no longer wanted it at all.

Pouring the wine in the river, he rinsed and filled it with the clean running water.

As the skin filled and he tipped it to rinse the residue of the wine out, he saw, just outside the copse of trees, the figure of a young woman in a green, elegant gown not suited for the forest.

Her honey-gold hair spread across her shoulders and spilled down her back in waves that jounced slightly with her steps.

She was smiling at him, and he waved at her, and beckoned her to sit with him.

Her walk was as stately as her dress, but there was something in her eyes that evoked curiosity as well as dread; they were preternaturally bright, just short of glowing.

“Welcome, young bard.”

“Madam.” His eyes slowly roamed her form under the gown.

She noticed, but didn’t take offense, or blush, or give any indication she was uncomfortable with his rudeness; if anything, she seemed amused.

“Are you a long way from home?” he asked.

She smiled. It was a beautiful smile. “This is my home.”

“You live in the woods.”

“We live in each other; there’s an understanding that’s too deep to go into now, and I seem to have interested you, but interrupted your meal.

“I will go.”

“No, oh no, please, don’t.” He scrambled to get in front of her. “I’d like some company.”

“And your own is not up to the task?” she teased.

He chuckled. “I spend enough time alone that I don’t need anymore at the moment.

“Please join me.”

He offered his hand to help her up, and she made herself comfortable beside him, and he noticed that she really did seem quite at home in her bearing; there was no fear of him emanating from her at all.

He considered her enigmatic comment a moment.

“So you live here.”

“I do.”

“How is that possible?”

She didn’t answer him right away, but was looking at the lute he carried.

She reached toward him. “May I?”

“What…? Oh. Oh, yes, by all means.” He unpacked it and handed it to her.

“It’s a fine lute, much used.” With nimble fingers, she plucked a pleasant chord.

“…and much cared for, and loved.”

He shifted, just watching her, noticing how she played, and how beautifully she hummed along.

She stopped, smiling at him. “Eat, troubadour. I will play for you.”

He ate.

As she played, she hummed a perfect harmony, clean and sweet, and he stopped eating and closed his eyes.

His heart seemed to keep time.

Soft wind blew tendrils of her hair across the contours of her smooth face, lifted now to the westering light.

A memory of hi mother’s face, smiling down at him as he sat on her knee, singing as he played…

“That song,” he whispered. “From my childhood. How could you know?”

He looked, but she was no longer beside him.

She’d taken his wineskin and was drinking from it, but not putting her mouth to it.

She finished, and laughing, wiped her lips on the bell of her sleeve.

“Singing is thirsty work. I am Soyala.”

She handed the wineskin to him, and as he drank, he found that it was soemthing fruit flavored, with a hint of honey.

He didn’t know if it was wine, as such but it was heady.

“What are you?” He stoppered the skin.

“I am what you want me to be, my young troubadour.”

The reply opened up for him a world of crude possibilities he could say, but her bearing would not brook such insults, and they died stillborn on his tongue. She had an ineffable quality that intrigued him, even though it slightly annoyed him.

He ventured a smile. “How about my patron?”

She laughed, not at him, but clearly amused by the remark.

“Anything but that, good sir. The rifts between friends when such things are undertaken are the stuff of legend.”

He laughed as well. “I would have to agree. Soyala, you sing and play beautifully.”

“Thank you.”

He took another pull of the exotic elixir, looked out at the river flecked with sparks of sunlight.

“You have questions,” she said.

He nodded. “Many.”

“I could answer, but you have not understood even the simplest of them.”

“That you and the woods live in each other.”

She smiled approvingly. “Your memory’s good.”

“It would have to be to do what I do. That was the simplest? You don’t just mean that you live here, and are familiar with your surroundings, you mean they’re somehow a part of you.”

“Yes.”

“I won’t pretend I understand, and I’ll probe no deeper for today, but I’d like to return sometime to talk with you.”

“You are welcome here. Tell me your name.”

“Teirtu.”

She laughed, and he smiled, knowing why.

“That is what you are called, but not your name.”

“You have the right of it.”

“Does it pertain to you, or your profession?”

“All stories are essentially lies, Soyala.”

“In their essence perhaps, but at their core, there is always a seed of truth.

“You intrigue me, Teirtu; your name is a riddle.”

“Do you like riddles?” He handed her back the wineskin.

“I do.” She drank and gave it back.

He smiled again. “We’ve essentially kissed.”

“But at the core, we haven’t.”

He laughed. “We could make it true.”

She tilted her head, her eyes amused.

“You’ve had your meal, and song, and wine; there is no need for you to linger.”

“The trio’s not complete.”

“Trio?”

“Wine, song…woman.”

“Ah. That trio. A bard’s love is plural.”

“I’m not interested in plural.”

She walked up close to him.

“I’ll not kiss you, Teirtu. You’ll need a reason to return, and if I give you what you desire, you may not.”

“What if I promised?”

“The promises of men are breath, nothing more, and the promise of a troubadour…”

“Less so. Yes, we do have a bad reputation, and not undeserved.”

He stepped away.

“I’ll walk with you to the road.”

“I’d like that, Soyala.”

She reached for his hand.

********************

“I will write a song for you.”

“I will hear it when you sing.”

“Kiss me, Soyala.”

She touched his cheek, and leaned in, and he closed his eyes, but the kiss never landed.

When he opened his eyes, she was gone.

He chuckled and shook his head.

“You are a riddle of your own, Soyala.

“I will return to solve it.”

 

 

In the Simple Things

It’s in the simple things:

intimate, small gestures that say you care

a palpable connection felt when eyes meet

knowing the thoughts, finishing the sentences

a connection of hands, the intertwine of fingers

the ebb and flow of bodies

giving and receiving

a binding of hearts and souls

a freeing of spirits

and we understand

the ancient lore of oneness

singing in rounds of alternate harmonies

walking together

down the pleasant path

to

Home.

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

Underground Encore

Just to provide some background for this story:  I started out as a guitar player at the age of 11. I had a classical acoustic guitar and I was going to be the next Earl Klugh. Between the ages of 14 -17 I sat in with these old jazz heads in Washington Square Park.

I stayed mostly silent but they let me join them on some of the easier stuff, until one day I heard the words from the de facto leader of the group. “You did a nice job on that.” It was, at the time, like a five-star rave review in the New York Times, but way led on to way, and in time, the group thinned out, and eventually they didn’t come back. And after awhile, as I sat in with new players and did new songs, way continued leading on to way, and I stopped going there as well.

I’ve often thought about those men, old men even then, no doubt passed on by now, and I’ve been thankful they were gracious to a young man with a love for the music who didn’t have the equipment or the know-how to play it, but who took what he had, and eventually heard the words, “You did a nice job on that.”

As jazz continues to hold a precarious place on the American music scene, I wanted to write something to show my appreciation not just to those men I sat in with, but to others like them who keep the flame in the hot tunnels, smoky clubs, concert halls, and  libraries and museums around the country and around the world. Now, without further ado….

The sun was sinking into the river against the city skyline. Leon sat in a patch of it as it came through the window, his shirt and tie barred, like Cyrano’s body, with the shadow of crossbeams that separated the window panes.

The doctor came out, and Leon stood up.
The doctor’s face said everything.
“I’m sorry, Leon. The tests are conclusive. I don’t know what to say that would make it easier.”
“Ain’t nothing left to say.”
“Is there anyone you’d like us to contact?”
“Got someone, but I’ll take care of it.”
“All right then. And Leon…” The doctor offered his hand.
Leon took the doctor’s hand in both of his.
“You done what you could, doc. thank you.”

******************
He walked out into the evening, the street alive with people and lights, cars and movement, the last of the sun ray’s deepening the shadows to a dusky blue.
The subway rumbled beneath him, and he headed toward the nearest station, then stopped.
Be underground soon enough. No need to rush.

He chuckled at his own weak joke, and took the long walk home.

*****************
His daughter was all he had left for family, and he wrote her now:

“Everything you need to know is in that old cookie tin you gave me for Christmas all that time ago. Everything’s in there, along with a note for my last wishes. I got some time yet, but I don’t, so you don’t have to come tomorrow, but don’t come too late. I don’t want to go in no potter’s field, though He’ll find me if I do.
“Just try not to let it happen, that’s all.”

*********************
His battered saxophone case was under the rickety bed, with the tarnished, well worn saxophone inside. He pulled it out, and sat on the edge of the bed, and looked at it, going back in his mind to the smoky nights, spent playing til the sun came up, so dapper he glittered in the spotlight, and later the feel of a full, warm woman on his lap, in his arms, in his bed, til time passed and the people moved on, and the clubs closed, and his career stalled, and stopped where it had started, and never moved again.

********************
Bars replaced clubs, drink replaced music, and even the most stubborn woman he’d ever met who tried to stay with him no matter what, threw in the towel before her own youth was wasted with a man who couldn’t move on, whose identity was too closely tied to what he did, and not who he was.

********************
Back into the evening streets, his case bumping along his spindly left leg, his suit fitting badly, but clean, and his face washed, he paid his fare, went down to the subway platform, but he didn’t open his case for change this time.

***********************
In his mind’s eye he saw her, regal in her red dress, her red lips matching, all of her full and shiny in the dim light. Her mahogany eyes gazed into his as she leaned forward to light his cigarette, and as he took her hand in both of his, she leaned forward and whispered in his ear.
“Play me something.”

She was leaving it up to him what to play, and he knew so many songs, but as he looked back into her eyes, and saw her smile at him, the song came like a lightning strike.
He played her something. And something else, and something else, til the band caught the pattern and the gist as they caught them staring, and they smiled and shook their heads, and simply followed.
“Leon at it again,” said the piano man. “On three, fellas…”
Three months later, they all came to the wedding.

*************************
Leon played the set through, but it was melancholy with a twist of bitter, haunting and bluesy and sad, with a splash of hope, and a sprinkle of joy.
A young cop began to walk toward him, but something made him stop, and he paused for a moment to listen, and a crowd began to gather. This was not the average subway joe who practiced for coins. Those who knew music knew this was the real thing, and those who didn’t felt it.

“All the Things You Are” echoed throughout the station and into the tunnels, a plaintive, restive, devotion leaking out with the realization of how utterly unattainable all of her had been, in the end.

*********************

The song ended, and the crowd clapped loudly until the rumbling train drowned it out, and they turned away to get on with their lives.
The cop came up to him.
“I know you. I know that song. My father had one of your records, and he played it all the time.”
“Did he, now?” said Leon, wiping the mouthpiece. He grinned, turned to look at the cop, a twinkle in his eye. “Only one?”
“No sir,” the cop laughed, “he had others, but that’s the one he played the most.”
“Played,” Leon said. “Is your father still alive?”
“No sir, he passed away five years ago.”
Leon straightened, gave the cop full attention.
“I’m sorry, young man.”
The cop said nothing for a moment, then “It was an honor to hear you play live, sir. I only wish my dad would’ve been here.”
“My pleasure,” Leon began to walk away.
And then he turned to the cop, and seemed to think a moment, and walked back, and held out his saxophone case.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m giving this to you.”
“Why? I can’t take it. Don’t you need it?”

Leon sighed. “No, I don’t. See, I’m about to meet your daddy, and we’re gonna be talking jazz for a long, long time.”
It took a moment, and then the cop’s eyes widened.
“Won’t be long now. Left everything else to my daughter, but she ain’t gonna want this old battered up horn. Won’t mean nothing to her except her daddy wasn’t home a lot, and she won’t even think to sell it, and probably just throw it away.”
The cop looked downcast.
“You gonna take this?”
“I can’t, sir.”
Leon leaned in, like he was telling a secret. “Tell you what, turn it in to lost property, then file a claim for it on my daughter’s behalf, and take it later.”
“Mr. Leon, are you sure?” The cop took the case like a sacred offering.
Leon straightened again. “I am. It’s the least I can do for a young man who grew up with my music, and who saw my last concert.”
The cop seemed to flinch.
“I…I’m sorry, sir. I truly am.”
Leon put his hand out, and the cop took it, and Leon put his other hand over it.
“It’s all right, son, you done what you could. Thank you.”

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.
May 2, 2014
All rights reserved