Everyone makes mistakes...Sure, some of them are worse than others. Some
get you a slap on the wrist and others get you immediately executed, but it's all the
same. Mine wasn't so bad, just kind of stupid. Stupidity has a way of getting out of
hand and getting people (like me) in all sorts of trouble.
Okay, maybe going on and on about the mystical 'black diamonds' was dumb,
but it shouldn't have caused all the uproar that it did. I mean I knew the minstrel shtick
pretty well; sing about grand adventures and do your best to stay out of them yourself.
However, this whole 'black diamond' business got me signed up for a lovely adventure
involving risking my beloved hide. Peachy.
It all started when I was hired to perform for a minor king in this itty bitty kingdom
no one has ever heard of. I was of course mildly flattered that they wanted me to play.
Of course, I had loads of talent, but very little actual experience. Upon my arrival, I
quickly realized why they had hired a nobody like me. Quite frankly, no self-respecting
minstrel would come within shrieking distance of King Mandorin's youngest daughter.
It was too late. I was stuck for it. I smiled grimly and put my harp between my
ears and the Princess' healthy vocal cords. I strummed, and I sang this quaint little
song involving the mystical black diamond. Major tactical error. I could tell after I was
halfway into the second verse. The princess was clapping her hands and her eyes had
a glint in them that I didn't like.
As I finished the song, the girl got to her feet and declared to King Mandorin,
"Daddy, I want a black diamond, like in the song."
Daddy paled and gave me a murderous look, guaranteeing that the castle
coffers were meager, and that he was contemplating bashing me over the head with my
harp. I shrunk further behind said harp and hoped that the King would say no and that
would be the end of it.
I had not taken into account the Princess' violently loud exception to "no."
An hour later I was cowering under my harp, hands pressed futiley over my
ears, as the Princess screamed and raved about black diamonds, and how Daddy
would give her one, or she would go to a convent and become a nun. All this in one
breath. Yeah, I was impressed too. Or I would have been if I hadn't been wondering
how long it would be before King Mandorin had me hanged, drawn and quartered. I t
is very difficult to play the harp when one is in four different pieces I assure you.
Though thankfully not from personal experience.
The Princess reached behind the harp, pushing me out from my hiding place.
She screamed, "The minstrel knows where it is!"
I groaned. Or at least that's what I did after the pounding receded from my ears,
and realized what she had said. The King glared. I shrank back towards my harp, but
the Princess had a remarkably firm grip on my arm and wasn't going to let me retreat.
King Mandorin shifted his weight and looked at my hapless plight. "You say that
you know where there are black diamonds, eh?"
I had said nothing of the sort, but I nodded, hoping that I could make a break for
"Good. Our beloved Princess has taken it into her head that she wants one of
those doo hickeys. Now tell Us where it is so We can send Our guards to fetch it."
(And get on with torturing helpless minstrels, his eyes continued.)
I stalled. I'm not sure what nonsense I blathered while my mind was racing to
think of a reason to let me get away from this castle. Finally I thought of an idea and
grabbed hold of it for dear life. "Only I can find it. It's," I cursed again to myself
trying to think of anything plausible, "a magical curse!" Well maybe my definition of
plausible is different than yours.
The Princess squealed, and clapped her hands. She loved magical curses! I
rubbed my arm where she was no longer holding it. Goodness, but the child had a
good grip. I looked up hopefully at King Mandorin. He looked vaguely puzzled and
extremely annoyed. He didn't know beans about magic. I was safe.
The King, however, had other plans. "We know nothing about magic, so We say
that you find the diamond so Our daughter will shut up. Since you will need
protection on your quest, We give you the benefit of Our resident witch's knowledge."
I knew that I was in major trouble. A witch could ruin my whole scheme. Of
course the scheme was fairly simple, pretend to go hunting for the black diamonds and
get the heck out of the kingdom. A witch tagging along would put a major damper on
that sort of thing. I stammered out some sort of crap about having always worked
alone while King Mandorin smiled evilly, looking pleased with himself ,and the Princess
Cutting short my protests, the King gestured to the nearest guard and cried,
"Send for Minerva."
Minerva was duly sent for. She proved to be a fairly young woman, not much
older than I was at the time, who looked more like a farmer's wife than a witch. I looked
at her. She looked at me. Then we both turned to the King.
"The Minstrel Kiartha is searching for the marvelous black diamonds..."
He was cut off by the Princess' wail, "Mystical black diamonds, Daddy!"
"Whatever. You are to accompany her on her quest and advise her on mystical
matters. Make. Sure. She. Doesn't . Run. Off."
Minerva nodded brusquely, before awaiting her King's final instructions. "We
wish you the best of luck, minstrel. Don't return without it." He clapped his hands
imperiously and he tromped off with the princess trailing behind him.
The Witch said, "Black diamonds, eh?"
"What would she want with a thing like that? Hankering after pearls the size of
potatoes I can understand. That was last week's minstrel, but a measly black
I shrugged, thinking there was no accounting for some people's tastes before
what she said hit me. "Last week's minstrel? Lasts week's minstrel?!!?!"
"Well, yes. Surely you didn't think that you were the only foolish singer to come
by here and have their tales of wondrous things taken too far by the Princess? Their
heads are set on stakes over the back door to the palace, as a warning to all those who
write bad poetry." I groaned. "Don't take it so hard, Minstrel Kiartha, at least you're not
the only one to fall into this trap."
I groaned again. She wasn't helping. I looked at my feet, wondering if they had
any helpful thoughts to contribute. They didn't and I suggested that we prepare for a
long journey, getting supplies, horses, bedrolls, that sort of thing. We agreed to meet
at noon the next day by the front gate.
I made myself as comfortable as possible on the Great Hall's stone floor and
eventually slept out of sheer exhaustion. I was awakened at the ungodly hour of
eleven o' clock, and was sent with a swipe of a broom to meet with Minerva. My night
on the floor had not been a pleasant one and my back hurt, and I wanted to sleep.
Not the best beginning for a quest.
Minerva was waiting for me and had the nerve to look as bright and chipper as I
definitely didn't feel. She had, no doubt, gone home to her bed, while I was stuck on
the stone floor. I was not in the best of moods. We went to the stables where the
stable boys saddled our mounts, (the two ugliest and worst tempered beasts with the
most uncomfortable gaits that I have ever had the misfortune to meet) and after we
mounted we were off.
As I jounced around on my sore rear, Minerva said, "Now, you said something
about a curse. I was thinking that I could help you out a bit there. Curses are a special
talent of mine, you see."
My horse tried to bite my leg right at that moment, completely making my day. I
lost my tenuous hold on my temper. "Yes, I think you can help me. If you would only
put a curse on that miserable King and his high pitched daughter, making them forget
all about black diamonds, I would be very, very, very, very happy!" My voice got louder
with each "very." My horse's ears were laid back, and he tried again to get a chunk of
my leg. I suddenly became very cool, reined in my mount, and refused to ride one
I dismounted and tied the nasty brute to the nearest tree. I sat down on a stone
and fully intended to stay there. Minerva called down to me, "You aren't really planning
to stay there, are you, Kiartha? Kiartha..." Sighing, she dismounted her horse and tied
it to another tree, giving it room to graze. She plopped down beside me, but wisely
didn't say anything, noticing my slumped posture and dejected face.
After a while of self recriminations and cursing all provincial kingdoms and their
rulers, I calmed down enough to help Minerva set up camp. After we had a fire going
and had eaten some of the food we had taken from the kitchens, I unpacked my harp
and was strumming it idly when, out of morbid curiosity, I asked, "A black diamond.
Where to they get this stuff? I don't suppose there are any black diamonds?" I looked
at her, hopefully.
"Of course there are. You just have to know where to look. Or," she added as a
thought came to her, "what to look for."
"I know what to look for! Black diamonds."
"But what, exactly, is a diamond, anyway?"
Just what I needed- a cryptic witch. I struck a discordant note on the harp, and
"Do you know how diamonds are made?"
"I'm a minstrel, not an alchemist." I continued playing the harp, only half paying
attention to her words.
"Compressed coal! And what color is coal?:
"Black! Kiartha, black! So what is a black diamond really, but coal? Kiartha?
I looked up from my harp. "What?"
"I just solved your problem for you, and you weren't even listening! I shouldn't
tell you now."
I put down my harp with a crash with almost no thought for the instrument. "Tell
She told me. We rode back to the castle with half of our supplies untouched. I
grinned as I went in to my audience with King Mandorin. He looked at me oddly,
surprised to see me back so soon.
"We are, ahem, pleased to have you back, Minstrel Kiartha. We take it your
quest was fruitful?"
The Princess broke in squealing, "Where's my diamond!"
I looked at both of them, at the frustrated King, at his high-pitched daughter, then
looked at Minerva, who should really get the credit. Then I spread my hands and
reached into my pocket and produced the 'black diamond.'
The Princess shrieked, the King bellowed, and I laughed. I bowed to the King
and headed as far away from that castle as possible. Who would have thought that a
piece of coal could have caused so much trouble?
|2 Dec 2001|| Jonathon T. Parker|
Hilarious! I was hooked from the first few lines. Poor Kiartha! This has to be one of my favorite short stories ever!
|25 Mar 2003|| Rose Biggin|
The title made me expect some serious "I shall tell you my tale" story but I was very plesently surprised! This is a lovely stort story with a good ending. Coal! Ha!