7th Saun 719
Maude had taken her time preparing the bow and tuning the fiddle. The tavern keeper was starting to feel that it was enough. He was paying her for playing, not to sit there and make sounds that were outright painful to hear.
“Hey, Maude, aren’t you going to play soon, we’ve heard enough of that miserable squeaking. Is it a fiddle or a pig you are tuning?”
The tavern was full of people now. This was despite the two crippled guests. It meant that the cowards had left and bolder people had taken their place. The owner was pleased. People who weren’t too cautious were prone to spend more. He was keen on keeping them there until they had used their money. The longer they would stay, the more inebriated they would become. The more inebriated they were, the more would order and the more they would pay. He knew how to “draw the grindstone” and maximize the profit.
Maude had a long experience of her job and knew this too. But, she wasn’t going to let the man rush her at the expense of the quality of her performance. Long term she had to think of her reputation and a mediocre performance wouldn’t do anything for her. To other people, she was only as good as her latest show. She had been in this situation many times and knew how to counter.
“Are you getting impatient?” Maude laughed. She was fine-tuning the instrument now. She took her time, not caring that several guests sided with the tavernkeeper and tried to rush her. At occasions like this, she used to find it fun to speak a bit instead of starting to play at once.
“I can't skip the tuning. I can tell you all that it would be bad respect for my beloved audience. You, yeah, you dear fellows who are here this merry evening in this good old tavern. It would be an insult to good Etzori folks like you if I would give you bad music for the money. I want to give you the best. It’s well worth waiting for the best, right? So, have another drink while you wait for the best music you can get tonight!”
The guests met this with a mix of laughter, claps, boos, taunts and encouraging shouts to Maude. It also generated and a lot of new orders for more drinks to the tavern staff. To be honest, it was getting a bit hard to hear the tones when she tested the strings. She finished the tuning of the strings nonetheless. But, instead of beginning to play for real at once, she played a few scales to warm herself up. People knew that this meant that the jester would soon do what they were waiting for. Some of the tavern guests shouted out to her in response.
Maude got to her feet and then she stepped forward with one foot. She bowed, holding her arms out to the sides, the fiddle in one hand and the fiddle-bow in the other. Then she came up again and with a well-practised gesture, she pushed her long and very red hair back from her face. She shook her head a bit to make the hair dance around her.
The pose had been her routine for arcs. After Zanik had blessed her it seemed a wee bit more striking than it had been before. For a moment, her secret blessing caused all who looked upon her to find her pleasant and attractive. It lasted only for a moment, but a moment was enough. She had already made the impression she wanted to make. People would recall that moment of feeling awed by her beauty even when the aura was gone.
The vivid dancing music would come later. People were still focused on their food and drink and many were eating. They wanted music that wouldn’t take too much place. They only wanted it to but be there in the background and add to the feeling of life being good after all. The tune Maude chose, to begin with, was a well known Etzori song. People from Etzos used to entertain themselves by singing it when they were feeling low. That was often how it was these trials, so the tune was popular.
“This is for all you patriots of our good old city of stones. Misfortunes have hit us, many have suffered, many have died but still, we stand our ground. War and plagues can hit us hard, but they can never beat us. The Etzori spirit never dies as long as there are still patriots standing and there’s beer in our glasses. My friends, let’s forget our sorrows for a while and make ourselves a merry evening!”
Her short intro was met with approving shouts.
The music started out pretty slow. In the beginning, it was only Maude playing her fiddle. The melody sounded thin and fragile. Then, as she had hoped, some people who recognize the tune. They began to stomp the beat when she played the somewhat livelier parts of it.
The music was uncomplicated and a bit repetitive. It was well suited for warming up the fiddler as well as the audience. The tempo was only moderate. She knew that it was possible to play it faster. Many fiddlers did so. The tune could sound very good at high speed too. But, Maude wanted a calmer start of the performance. She adapted the tune and compensated for the slower speed by giving the tune what she felt it needed. The same tune could seem good at more than one pace. It was always about the feeling. A fiddler added their own special flavour to the music. A tune was never a recipe set in stone they must carry out in one single specific way.
Maude played on for a while and it was true that she did her very best. Although she played for the money of the tavernkeeper and the guests, money alone wasn’t her reason to play. She loved music. The pleasure she took in playing was genuine. There was no acting, no pretence, no attempt to make it "only a job".
Also, playing was a religious activity for her. It was her secret worship of the immortal Zanik. People couldn’t know that, but they could hear and feel the emotion she put in. Maude Coaley played with great feeling. Her technique had room for improvement, but her music was very full of life. They gave her that. And wasn’t’ she also an attractive Etzori woman, known to be a good patriot? They gave her that too.
When Maude played she forgot everything around her and became one with the music. She knew that people listened. She heard their stomping, claps, shouts and applause. But, to her, that was the background sounds and the music was what counted. She didn’t care exactly who they were, her listeners. They were all good enough to her and there was nobody she wouldn’t play for.
Her eyes were often shut, but sometimes she opened them and glanced at the crown in the tavern. She saw typical Etzori men and women, still healthy and unharmed. The crippled people at the best table were the exception. She noted in passing by that the tavern staff’s attempts to rush those and make them leave fast had failed.
Instead, “The Limbless” two seemed set on having a great evening no matter how expensive it would be. The woman with the amputated arm moved a bit on her chair along with the music. It was possible that she was stomping the beat. A smile was on her face and she seemed to keep up a lively conversation with her one-legged partner. The man was smiling too. They seemed happy, to judge from the expressions on their faces.
A bottle of wine sat in front of them. When the waitress tried to fill their glasses before they even were empty the man took the bottle from her. He shook his head, his smile fading a bit. The waitress gave up after yet another failed attempt to speed their visit up. She left in a hurry and the man’s smile grew again.
Maude felt a vague sympathy for the crippled couple. It wasn’t like it was something she could, or wanted to act on though, except for pouring the feeling into the music. She knew that the waitress was only doing her job. The girl had her orders from the tavernkeeper. Whether she wanted it or not she was the one assigned to closer contact with “The Limbless”. She had to accept their potential contagiousness. Whether she wanted it or not she had to keep up the ever-cheery smile of a professional waitress. She had to do so even when her task was to work in a manner that would rush the crippled customers.
The air in the tavern was hot, partly because it was saun and partly because the place was full. Being aukari Maude had no problem with it, but some people were showing signs of suffering from the heat. Cold food was popular. Smoked and dried meat and cold grilled chicken were on every table. Cheese, bread and cold vegetable dishes were also in demand.
The fiddler moved on to more tunes. She was still playing at a calmer pace and saving the dance music for the middle of the performance. People wouldn’t want to dance as long as they were eating. When they had finished their meals they would be more interested. But many would want to sit still for a while and speak with each other or play a game of cards.
Let them eat up, drink some more, play games and socialize. Maude wasn’t in a hurry. She played the music she loved. Later, when people would begin to feel a bit bored and consider to leave, the tavern keeper would notice. Then, he would tell her to play something faster to spice up the atmosphere. It would make the evening feel new and exciting and give the guests a reason to stay a bit longer.