Everso Lovely was awoken in the early morning hours by two sullen and annoyed looking guards. They threw open the door (with no regard whatever for the niceties of knocking) and demanded that Everso go with them. Questions about where she was about to go were ignored and the guards entered the room and made it plain that she had no choice in the matter.
“Do you want me to wait here?’ asked Roofus from his perch near the window. This gave the guards pause as they had never seen a talking bird before. Well, except for those ones that seafarers seemed inclined to carry about. But those birds spoke only in pale imitations of a human voice and could only say a phrase or two. This bird sounded something like a middle-aged man with an accent. But, of course, they had absolutely no idea what it was that he was saying.
“You might as well, Roofus,’ Everso said, ’you won’t want to be going where they’re probably taking me. In fact, I might not ever see you again for that matter. But in case I do somehow make it out of this mess, wait for me back at our house. I’ll look for you there.”
“Are you sure?’ asked Roofus. ’I could try to make my way to wherever it is they’re taking you.”
“To the house, Roofus,’ Everso repeated as one of the guards, already jaded about the talking bird, took her by the arm and roughly pulled her out into the hallway.
‘All right.’ Roofus called after her. ’Auf Wiedersehen!” Then he sprung up and flew out the window and was gone.
The guards guided Everso down the tower steps, across the great hall of the castle and up another flight of stairs that led to another hallway with doors along one side and windows, with stained glass in them, on the other. It was quite beautiful actually, Everso thought, with the sun shining through the colored glass and filling the long hallway with wonderful mixtures of red and yellow and blue light. If the circumstances were different she would have loved this tour.
Turning a corner in the hall they arrived at a thick, wooden door with ironwork that looked like ivy with broad leaves attached and swooping down the sides encrusting the frame . One of the guards knocked on the heavy door and Everso heard light footsteps approaching from the other side. The door opened a crack and wigged servant’s face appear. After seeing who it was the old servant stepped aside and opened up the door fully and Everso Lovely was brought into a small room with another door at one end. She was told to sit on one of the ornate cushioned chairs. So she did.
Oh, she thought, I would so like to lie down on that couch over there. She hadn’t been able to sleep on the straw cot at all.
The guards left and the servant disappeared into the other room, signaling her to wait where she was. She could hear that the guards outside had not left and could hear them shuffling to and fro. No escape there then.
A few minutes passed and then the servant reappeared.
“The Queen will see you now,’ he intoned, ’be sure to curtsy when you are before her and don’t say anything until you are spoken to.”
“The Queen?’ Everso said, with no small amount of relief. “The Queen wants to see me?”
“She does, now be quiet and follow me in.”
Everso followed the little man into the Queen’s suite and found her majesty seated on a large divan by the window to the east. Sun spilled in around her and sparkled in her golden hair. She was quite wonderful to behold. Everso immediately felt better and couldn’t believe that anything seriously bad was going to happen to her. She stopped some distance away and performed an awkward curtsy. She wasn’t really sure about how to curtsy but she must have done an all right job with it because the Queen smiled and beckoned to her to come and sit near her on a small cushioned stool near the window.
“My dear,’ the Queen began, ’may I just say how sorry we are that you had to spend such an uncomfortable night in the tower. But there was nothing to be done you. Eric was so angry at you and had to be assuaged somewhat. But don’t worry, he’s gone out on the hunt and by the time he gets back he will probably have forgotten all about you. Particularly if he has a couple of flagons of ale, which he will undoubtedly do. Did you sleep at all? Have you had anything to eat?”
“Actually, I didn’t sleep, your highness. But I did get some meat pie’, Everso said.
“Meat pie? Bribed one of my guards with your beautiful smile, no doubt,’ the Queen said.
“Well, no, my bird brought it to me.”
“Yes, your highness, he’s a sort of pet of mine. He found his way to my cell. He’s quite skilled in that regard.”
“Well, isn’t that marvelous,’ the Queen said with a laugh. ’I’m certainly glad you got some sustenance, but here, help yourself to an apple.”
The Queen motioned to the old servant who walked over to a sideboard and came back with a silver bowl containing some apples.
“I’m afraid the apples are a little under-sized, my dear. And not terribly sweet. But that’s the way of it these days. Nothing is as it was anymore. Including the fruit.”
Everso bit into the apple. It was a very delicious apple, it could be nothing else as anyone who has spent a night in an insect-ridden jail cell will tell you.
“I have called for you, Everso, to talk to you about your future,’ the Queen said.
“My future,’ Everso replied, putting the apple aside for the time being.
“Yes,’ said the Queen. ’I’m afraid that my son, in an impetuous act of revenge, has made it impossible for you to continue your career as a singer.”
“What?’ Everso cried.
“Yes, my dear. He has banned anyone from hiring you. At least in this kingdom. And I’m afraid that there is little I can do about it. I think he has been very childish and I certainly didn’t think he was so thin-skinned as all that but apparently I was wrong.” The Queen sighed. “However, I have an alternative for you if you are prepared to listen to my proposal.”
Everso thought that she might cry. Singing and writing poetry was her life. She loved it so much and the thought of only being able to continue with it in the privacy of her own home was excruciating. Besides, how would she make a living. What would become of her. She sobbed.
“Now, now, be strong,’ said the Queen. “You’ll be all right. Besides you haven’t heard my proposal yet.”
“Yes, your highness?’ Everso said, dabbing at her eye with the corner of her soiled blouse.
“Well here it is. You don’t know this, nobody does yet, but a great council has been convened in Rill. Each of the countries will send a delegation of several people. The purpose of this council is to try to find a way to stop the blight that has made everything so bleak and hard for the last years. You have probably realized that this blight affects everything and grows stronger and more dangerous every day. If no solution is found soon it will mean the end of everything.”
“Yes, your highness. I remember when nobody ever thought about the darkness before. Even though there were things that went wrong and squabbles and such, life itself was wonderful for most. And those that were troubled could find help”
“Yes, exactly. Well, the time has come to act, Everso, and we have agreed to join the council and send a delegation. Now, here is my proposal. The members of the delegation that we are sending are all experts in one field or another, or possess great insight, such as a wizard might have for example. Certainly, as a singer of songs and ditties, this kind of duty would be beyond the ken of a person such as yourself, despite the skill you obviously do possess. So, this is what I would have you do. I’m not going to force you, of course, you can choose to say no, but this expedition and indeed the workings of the council itself will need to be recorded. And, not just as dry facts, any scribe I chose could do that. No, it must be put down into song and story, for the ages to look back upon. I am very confident that the best minds of our land can actually do something. And if, gods forbid, they can’t then this, too, will need to be chronicled. What do you think? Is it something you feel you could do? Create a tapestry of the spoken and written word that will act as a record for time immemorial?”
The Queen sat back and watched Everso. Everso was dumb-struck so she stood and looked out the window. Far below she could see the forest and, she fancied, her house although that must be impossible. Her mind whirled.
“Sounds like a pretty fair deal,’ a voice above her croaked. She looked up. It was Roofus. “I’ve always wanted to see what it was like in other countries.”
“What was that?’ the Queen asked.
“Oh, your majesty, I was just saying that it would be a very great honour to accompany the delegation. Of course I will accept. I only hope that I can live up to your faith in me.”
“Oh, of that I have no doubt, my dear. I am a pretty good judge of character in the end and certainly your humility and love of life stand you in very good stead with me. I can’t think of a better choice. Besides, it will get you away from the wrath of the Prince.”
“Your highness,’ Everso said, trying another brief curtsey. “When will the delegation be leaving?”
“Tomorrow,’ the Queen said with a chuckle. “Soon enough for you?”