Flowers for a Lady: A Sonata in C major
By: Valeria Posted on: August 03, 2006
~First Movement: Allegro Moderato~
Once there was a young man of Cyrene who loved Raphella, the diva.
Month after month, he would listen to her sing at the Theatre Prophasia, his heart soaring with every glorious note she reached and melting with every throbbing aria to which only her rich contralto voice could do justice. Born and bred in Cyrene, the young man had grown up surrounded by music. His earliest lullabies had been the melodies of the famous bell tower, and his days were filled with the song and poesy of bards known worldwide for their art. But nothing could compare to Raphella's magnificent voice that enthralled her audience with the beauty of her singing.
How he loved her! No other man thrilled so much to the accents of her mellifluous voice; no other man longed so deeply in his heart for a mere glance, a look of acknowledgement from his beloved. And certainly no other man could have had a more cruelly indifferent mistress. Offstage, Raphella was haughty and temperamental beyond belief, spoilt by her tremendous success. The only things the young man ever saw that made her happy were the expensive gifts and beautiful flowers her admirers presented to her after each performance.
After seeing her smile too often at someone other than himself, the young man finally made up his mind. He too would win her notice and capture her heart. He too would make her a gift worthy of her splendour and artistry, and then surely she would love him as he loved her.
Steeling himself, he dared to brave the treacherous Vashnarian snowdrifts to reach the village of Caer Witrin and find the perfect gift. For a day and a night after returning from his arduous journey, the young man was confined to bed with a terrible fever. But after Raphella's next performance, where she was as sublime as ever, he sought her out in the halls of the Theatre. Shyly, he bowed and offered his gift: a pearly bouquet of snowblossoms that gave off an intoxicating fragrance.
Raphella pursed her lips in thought as she took the bouquet, lowering her imperious nose to smell the flowers. At last, she looked up and smiled. The young man's heart soared, too dazzled by her notice and too blinded by his adoration to see the vanity and self-absorption in the famous diva's eyes.
"These are very nice," said she. Purest joy filled his soul at her words.
"But," she continued, "if you wish to make me truly happy, such a commonplace bouquet is not enough. If you wish to prove your love, then you must bring me a silver rose from the temple of Lady Selene, given to Her by Lady Tarah. Only such a flower, blessed by both Love and Harmony, could be a suitable gift for me."
The young man's heart abruptly sank. He had spent enough time among the bards to know that their patron goddess' temple was located far away, nestled deep within the Granite Hills far to the remote and wintry north. To his credit, though, he merely bowed to Raphella and promised to bring her what she asked for.
Thus began his long trek once more out of Cyrene, which he had left only twice before in his entire life and only as far as Caer Witrin both times. Uncertain and inexperienced, he crossed the icy chasms and rocky, snow-covered cliffs of the Southern Vashnars, often losing his way amid the unfamiliar terrain. He was no stalwart adventurer who had survived the rigours of Loom Academy, no hardy explorer who knew the realms of Sapience like the back of his hand. Each day, he stoked the embers of his remembered love, for it was all that kept his strength from flagging.
With the memory of Raphella's spellbinding voice urging him on, he made it out of the mountains and into the boundaries of the Mhojave desert. By now, the young man was weak with hunger, having brought few provisions at the beginning of his journey. As it happened, the first thing that crossed his path in the desert was a gecko lizard, an ugly and alien little creature but no longer frightening. With a cry, he set upon the lizard and killed it. Carefully cooked, its firm white flesh tasted surprisingly mild and succulent. The venom sacs he had no use for, though he kept the iridescent scales, hoping to perhaps fashion a lovely ornament from them. He also discovered how much easier it was to travel in the desert by night and sleep by day beneath a makeshift shelter. Eventually, he even found the oasis in the desert village of el'Jazira, where he sought to refill his water-skins under cover of twilight. The young man had barely finished when two brawny ganissary guards caught him in the act and chased him out of el'Jazira. As he fled, their shouts of outrage made it plain that he would never be welcome back. Much wiser for his folly and loaded with a new supply of fresh water, the young man continued northward through the dunes, ever northward.
Once he reached the broad reaches of the savannah, the young man's journey became much less gruelling. With the experience garnered from traversing the mountains and the desert behind him, he walked taller and straighter, his new confidence and old resolve keeping him following his course north. He swam the cool waters of the Pachachaca and landed clean on the other side, to dream that night of silver roses under the crystalline stars. He had no idea how long his journey might last, but now he knew he could endure it.
In the following days, he left the savannah and forged his way through the tangled pathways of the Black Forest, dark with mystery and danger. How long he wandered in that leafy labyrinth, the young man could not say: maybe one day, or two. He had no qualms left about robbing a hive of its honeycombs, when he was lucky enough to find one, or hunting rabbits for his supper. None of it troubled him, so long as he could survive to fulfil his purpose.
~Second Movement: Adagio~
Then he came upon the village of Thera.
No longer was it the charming little hamlet that it once had been, yet still it was fair even to his Cyrenian eyes. By now, the gusts of Aeguary had given way to the gentle, whispering zephyrs of Miraman, filling the air with balmy warmth. The flowering cherry trees, newly planted along the lanes, had begun to bear forth their lustrous blossoms. Enraptured by their cultivated beauty, the young man wandered like one lost amid the flowerbeds and sturdy country dwellings.
Then, in the distance, as though in a dream, he heard the clear, sweet tones of a young girl, singing as she returned home in the evening.
He looked about in wonder and saw her, carrying a pail of water from the village well. She returned his gaze with eyes that seemed to know everything about him in a glance. Like magic, the evening breeze carried her soft words to him. "Come with me," said she. "Come with me, and I will care for you."
From then on, the girl became almost like his shadow. Care for him she did, until he could barely bring himself to leave the peaceful, happy village or to abandon the girl. Yet, even when he decided to depart at last, she remained with him still. In the night, she followed his steps, and the next morning, her singing woke him from his dreams. Though he scolded her fiercely at first for coming, he soon learned to be grateful for her presence and guidance. This far north, the very constellations seemed changed from what he had known and he came to rely often on her knowledge to keep them continuing north.
During their nights, which often found them camped in the billowing grass of the Sangre Plains, he explained to the girl about the promise he made to Raphella and the journey he had taken. Somehow, when he saw the girl's expression, he dimly understood the futility of his quest. Yet, when she snuggled close to him, looking content, her warmth made him forget all else, except that he would rather die before he let any harm come to her.
Slowly, the two of them forged their way north through the Sangre, both amazed at the many curious creatures they encountered, from groundhogs to massive buffalo. Together they forded the Urubamba and, from atop the Granite Hills, sighted the sprawling city of Ashtan. Though vastly different from his native Cyrene, it still brought the young man's home city to mind with a sharp pang of homesickness. He held the girl harder to him and turned his back to the city, heading ever northward.
He'd never quite believed the girl when she told him of how immense the Dardanic Grasslands were, or how cold they could be even in early summer. When he finally saw them and realised how far still he had yet to go, the young man all but collapsed in despair.
At his side, the girl pointed excitedly at the sky. "Look there! A dove! What could it be doing so far north?"
"A dove?" Suddenly, a wild hope gleamed in the young man's eyes. He knew how dear white doves were to Lady Selene, and only one that belonged to Her temple would be found here. He grasped the girl's hand tightly in his. "We must follow its flight. The end is near, at least."
Further in and deeper north the dove's flight led them. They struggled to keep up with it, racing the sun's descent and the last of the light. When the girl sank in exhaustion, spent from chasing the bird, he carried her in his arms and continued on. Night had fallen when at last the dove vanished from sight, leaving him standing alone on the edge of a clear lake.
Now, however, he felt no despair. Standing on the far shore was the breathtaking temple of Lady Selene, a vision that dazzled his eyes even as it filled his heart with warmth and peace. He rounded the shore and, with the triumph of finality, crossed the threshold of the temple. Deep into its silent sanctuary he wandered, too dazed by his long effort to notice the exquisite beauty around him. As he caught sight of the solitary rosebush at the temple's centre, the young man gently laid the girl on the soft ground and reached his hand toward the famed silver-hued roses for which he had come all this way. Cautiously avoiding the thorns, he plucked a small handful, enough for a delicate bouquet, and stowed them carefully in his pack. Then, worn out, he lay down beside the sleeping girl, to join her in slumber.
They spent one day in the temple of Lady Selene, marvelling at the treasures of beauty within. In his heart, though, the young man felt his memories of home tugging at him. With a tear in his eye at leaving behind the wonders he saw, departed southward toward Cyrene.
"You don't need to follow me back,â€ he said to the girl. "You've done so much for my sake already."
She shook her head. "I've come this far with you, so I might as well help you finish it. Besides," and here her lips quirked in a small smile, "I would like to meet the lady who inspired you to do this."
The young man started in surprise; he hadn't thought of Raphella for so long that the memory of her was like a shock. He'd almost forgotten what she looked like. If he strained hard enough, he could recall the sound of her voice, though the thrill of its beauty had waned. All his memories of those long-ago days had faded and dimmed. But the roses were for her; that much, he had not forgotten.
~Third Movement: Andante cantabile~
Back through the Sangre Plains they went, until they found the broad Prelatorian highway and followed its path through the wilderness of the wide world. This time, having learned something of travel by now, the young man avoided the desert wastes as much as possible. Too well he knew what it had been like to thirst for days under the scorching sun, and he would rather die than let the girl by his side experience such suffering.
To his wonder, the silver roses of Lady Selene did not wither and fade, as he had dreaded they would during the return journey, or shed their lustrous petals. Whether on the road or back among the now-familiar Southern Vashnars, they stayed as fragrant and beautiful as though freshly picked. The young man couldn't help wondering if his home city would also have stayed so unchanged after all this time, or if he had.
When he entered through the city gates, there were no triumphal arches to greet them, no bards to hail their return with song and laughter. Business went on as usual around the two tired travellers as they arrived at Centre Crossing in the full bloom of twilight. Even so, the girl by his side could not hide her awe at the sight of the city's landmarks rising all around her: the famed clock tower with its sonorous bells, the Pantheon, the Dancing Boar Inn, and the Imperial Palace. To her disappointment, however, the young man didnâ€™t dally to sightsee but headed directly for the Theatre Prophasia. The sun had just set beneath the mountains, and he knew tonight there would be a grand opera performance in which Raphella would star, as she always did. Tonight, he would finally give her the roses that he had gone so far to find for her.
As they neared the theatre steps, the girl remembered with a pang the way he had spoken of Raphella, and the look in her eyes softened into sadness. She let go of his hand. "There's nothing binding between us," she said presently.
He didn't seem to hear her as he pushed the doors open and the magnificent voice of Raphella filled every corner of the opera hall. With a triumphant flourish of the accompanying orchestra, she concluded her final aria on a soaring, powerful note that seized her listeners' hearts and left them trembling with astonishment and awe. At once, a wave of memory overwhelmed the young man. Once more, his knees weakened at the sound of that familiar, mellifluous voice, which had incessantly haunted his dreams for so long. He watched speculatively as Raphella stepped offstage amid an admiring crowd proffering gifts and praise, radiant as ever in her imperious glory.
As though in reply, Raphella's gaze slid toward him, taking in his weathered face and newfound maturity with no sign of recognition. "Who are you?" she asked. "It seems I should know you, yet I cannot place you at all."
"Perhaps this may help." He gave an elaborate bow and, with a flourish, presented her with the luminous bouquet of silver-hued roses. In the dazzling opera hall, they seemed to glow with a diffuse, almost moonlit radiance. Raphella's eyes bulged in disbelief and her jaw dropped; it was the first time he had ever seen her speechless. "I give you this humble gift of roses from Lady Selene's temple, blessed by both Love and Harmony."
"W...why?" she stammered.
With all eyes on them, he placed the roses gently in Raphella's hands. She actually trembled as she gazed up at him, looking somehow very vulnerable as she reverently accepted his gift. "Because of a promise that once a besotted young admirer made to you," he answered. "A long, difficult journey he made to earn this fair prize for you, all to win your heart."
"You?" she whispered. Her eyes were heavy-lidded, her lips parted.
There was no question that if he answered "Yes," then he would have what he had hardly dared to dream of only months ago: Raphella's undying adoration and love. Even now, she awaited his affirmation with joyous hope, her face shining with an emotion he once would have given anything to see directed toward him. His heart tightened.
The young man's gaze flickered to the girl at his side. She stood with eyes downcast, a mere slip of a girl, as small and simple as Raphella was majestic and haughty, and every inch of her radiated resignation.
"No," he said, shaking his head, "not me." He saw Raphella gape and felt the girl's startled glance. "I too have travelled long, and I have found a prize fairer still than a mere flower." Reaching out, he took the girl's hand in his, squeezing it firmly as if he never wished to let go of her again. He looked into her wide eyes and felt his heart expand and soar like a song winging upward into the starry firmament of night. "Against all expectations, I have found you, my beloved, and I promise I will never leave your side."
He drew her lovingly into his arms and, with an incredulous gasp, she clung to him, her warmth making him forget all else. Neither of them noticed Raphella fainting dead away; a dozen admirers flocked around her prostrate body, trying to help. Together, they turned away and walked into the open air, filled with the wind's melodic murmurs and the night's sweet, mysterious enchantment.
"Do you truly love me?" she whispered, touching his cheek.
"Yes," he said just as softly. "Do you?"
"I do." She smiled at him.
He smiled back in perfect contentment as she snuggled into his embrace. Unexpectedly, her voice reached his ears, clear and sweet and heartbreakingly lovely as she sang for him alone the song that he had heard when they had first met. Tears filled his eyes at the beauty of her singing as he held her close, beneath the starlit night. Love, joyful love, endless love, love that once he had never even dreamed of attaining, sang within him in answer to her voice and filled his head with the music of her, drowning out all other songs but hers.