The wind outside wasn't quite as fierce as it had been in the weeks before. It whistled about Herot, the wooden walls cutting through the lessened chill. Winter, the time of our salvation, was coming to an end.
I heard my king's call from across the room. His booming voice was growing brittle with age, much like mine. I rose slowly, grasping in front of me for my harp. It was pressed into my outstretched hand roughly, and the boy who never left my side lowered me back to my seat. That he should never know my envy of his youth!
My gnarled fingers brushed the cords softly, finding the pitch and giving me my place to begin. With trepidation I plucked a single note and listened as the meadhall quieted. They would certainly resume their noise in a moment.
I pondered which song to sing. Perhaps I should warn them of the shifting season? Or maybe give another lamenting elegy? Should I roast away the chill settling in my bones with joy and praise? It wouldn't really matter, would it? They only ask for music, and I must play.
What more can be said of the kings of old?
Those noble conquerers whose fame reaches to all lands?
With their great battles they filled every chest with gold.
They cared for all their subjects with open hands.
Ah, to be a king as beloved as Shild!
So wise in war and generous with treasure!
Under him, all of Denmark was but a child.
And by what else could a king be measured?
Shild was but the first great leader of the Danes,
The warrior king whose loss was felt by all,
Revered title of leader fell to many more names,
Though it was Hrothgar who built the Dane's great hall!
Surely no other could have built a grander thing,
And only in Herot shall this humble singer sing!
I continued to play after I had finished, the strings harsh against my stiff fingers, but their sound as beautiful as ever, the song of the harp smoothly covering the doubt in my failing voice. Whether Hrothgar's grandfather was as grand as I claimed I knew not, but Hrothgar himself could not even defend his hall. As much as I desired safety, his kingdom goes on to the edge of the world. Where is a cynical old songmaker to go if not Herot? The boisterous noise of food, mead, and good cheer had picked up during my song, as I had known it would, and as it should. We approached four months without an attack. Celebration was long overdue for Hrothgar's people. Who am I to bring down the mood of the night? Only an entertainer, nothing more. He called me again. I sang.
Do tell, do tell, who of all could resist
The unbroken might of the Danes' great King?
None can withstand Hrothgar, I do persist.
Nor any man whom he has favored with a ring.
The Danes' might can be seen by all through Herot
Where we merry souls are free to live peacefully
May this house of cheer be kept free of rot
So we all may gather together merrily
Her beams are strong and her foundation sound
The bravery of those within is unparalleled!
Nowhere on earth could a better place be found
She stands against all forces, even waves greatly swelled.
By her master Hrothgar's rule all must abide
There is no other king more deserving of pride.
My words rang false and forced on my ears, though I doubt Hrothgar noticed through his drunken haze. I continued. Of glory and honor and fame I sang, of the might of Herot to repel all enemies, man or beast. I sang of the bravery of the men gathered and of their valor in surviving another rough winter- though given the amount of grain my assistant claimed to have seen in a storehouse somewhere on the grounds this was no feat for the wealthy conquerors- and I sang of the beauty of our great queen, Wealtheow. This beauty I have never myself seen, though her appearance has been described to me often enough. I know more of her kind words and her gentle tone, made all the more fair by her grace and dignity. I dare not say, but I suspect that the Danes would be better managed under the rule of the diplomat and trader rather than her husband. To give voice to the idea would inspire much laughter in Herot, I'm sure.
The men seemed pleased with the praise, as tankards clashed and mead spilled across the floor. Booming laughter punched through the air, my song steady and warm spirited in the background. A rustle outside differed slightly from the whispers of the dying wind, and I was glad I had chosen not to spoil the mood. The noise on the other side of the wall meant there would surely be blood in the meadhall tonight. Plenty of occasions for sorrowful music would follow. Perhaps, I thought, if I played loud enough, none would notice the crash of the doors when our foe ended his hibernation. Louder I played.