Read An Excerpt From Tales From Frewyn: The Opera By Michelle Franklin
Teague made a chary approach, wondering how to broach the subject in a manner that would not give offense. He said his addresses to the commander, explained what he and Mureadh had seen, and before he could finish his speech with a solemn regret and apology for the affront on behalf of the Frewyn Players, the commander interposed with:
“I must have evidence of this travesty,” she said, beaming with glee. “This is far too much suspense.”
He produced the poster and smiled at the commander’s instant eagerness as she took it into her hands and held it open for a meticulous inspection.
“Oh, by the Gods, this is glorious,” she exclaimed, remarking the whole of the piece. “I must show this to my mate. I cannot decide what shall anger him most: the violet skin, the overdrawn and yet handsome scowl, the fangs, or the paltry sizes of his sword, kilt, and the article beneath it.” She smirked at such an erroneous interpretation and nodded while her eye perused every corner of the page. “This depiction could only be made more marvelous if a rose had been put in his mouth,” she said laughingly. She sighed and her expression saddened. “He shall be disappointed about the size of my chest, however.”
“I did think that was a little inaccurate,” said Teague, stealing a momentary glance at the deep vale between the commander’s heavy breasts.
“Little is certainly what I should call those in comparison to what my mate so delights in every evening.”
They exchanged a smile, and the commander shifted into the light to remark the vibrancy of the colours and the brushstrokes employed in the piece.
“The palette was well chosen,” she mused. “I rather like my flaxen hair and blue eyes.”
“The Den Asaan’s pink kilt is my particular favourite,” Teague said with a half-smile.
“Pink is rather his colour, especially with the red eyes and grey hair to match. He’s made me far too becoming and much too small in height and in proportion. I’m rather inclined to think this charade is not even about me, as I am nowhere on this advertisement other than in the title, and even that is ambiguous. My mate is certainly recognizable.”
Teague simpered. “I recognized him immediately.”
“I assume that this pristine fellow on the glimmering horse is meant to be our good king.”
“I believe so, commander. “
“Well, Alasdair looks rather splendid, as he ought. He shall be quite pleased. Any illustration that portrays Alasdair with such excellently sculpted hair and a fine jerkin is all his delight. Maeve is the one who should be offended. She should never have wanted to be a white horse, or this fat and smiling.”
Teague chuckled to himself, relieved to see how keen the commander was to oblige such misconception, and as she excused herself and hastened to the kitchen to share the news with Alasdair, he hoped that the offense on the king’s side would be as moderate as the commander’s. Though he did wish to remain within Diras Castle to see Rautu’s reaction to the advertisement, there was a dinner to be had and there were friends to be met with, and as he left the barracks to rejoin Mureadh, he had little doubt of hearing the giant’s roaring disapproval from wherever he should be in the capital at the moment of discovery.
The jerkin was donned, the Cuineills were got, the mantles and redingotes were fastened, and everyone was soon arrived at the Royal Theatre. The commander, however, broke from the party for a few moments on account of a most necessary call to Diras Delights. The Frewyn bakery was just closing for the day and therefore had little to recommend its usual excellent stock, but she declared herself prepared to take away anything that was tolerably fresh and not the least bit wholesome. She was given a few of the chocolate toffee butter biscuits for her visit, and though she was warned that they were from yesterday, they must do for now. If a play was to be sat out, it would not be sat out in penance, for an opera was the most excruciating sort of entertainment in the world and could only be borne by eating more insalubrious yet delicious items than is good for one. The procurance was chiefly made for the Den Asaan, whose lenience for mainland singing was not always favourable. He accepted his tribute when it was given him with a sudden excitement but was warned to save his treats for the performance where they might keep him from shouting his aspersions until the end of the production.
They waited together for a few minutes before being greeted once again by the director, who was certainly pleased to see the majesties, and less so to see his captains and commanders and some of his yeomanry. He denied the play’s being absolutely ready. It would be well enough for one of inferior taste as the Den Asaan but ought not be acceptable to a Frewyn King, one whose noble blood was surely more refined than that of a grunting giant’s despite the Den Asaan’s unconquerable achievements. He bowed to the majesties, made nervous smiles, and begged them to return tomorrow for a proper showing of his opus, but the sight of so dignified a jerkin as the one on Alasdair had dazzled him and made him reconsider his refutation. As the king seemed inspired and enthused by the opera, perhaps he would allow for some errors in stage direction, some flat notes in the songs, some improvisations in the slender playbook. He was a forgiving man, and one so young for a king might betray some inexperience when speaking of Marridon’s finest entertainment. Perhaps some mistakes might be gotten away with, and as any wrinkle in the performance would be smoothed for tomorrow night, he could show the play now without any fear of critique to harangue his attempts. As for the rest of the party, there was little need for him to vex himself over what a cook, a leatherworker, a blacksmith, an old woman, four captains and a wry farmer should think of his art. Fortunate he was that the writer of the playbook was at home nursing a sore throat and could therefore not repudiate the changes he had made in the lines over the last few days. As it was, the royal party might even receive a better performance than could be expected, and upon the whole he was inclined to invite them all into the theatre, knowing that there were only two of the party whose opinions truly mattered.
There was a general bustle when the royal party entered the orchestra tier of the theatre. The company murmured amongst themselves in a trepidatious hush, passing glances first to the commander and Den Asaan and then to the king and queen who were all being seated in the front row. Whispers of what was to be done and how they should act with regard to the majesties, two of such superior musical understanding, were uttered until the Frewyn Players were called out onto the stage to greet their guests accordingly. They crawled out from their caches, the men bowed and the women curtsied, and they could not but agree to performing the entire opera from the beginning for the royal party. As only the Den Asaan for an audience had been hitherto pronounced, this was a most distressing and unwelcome addition. They knew their director had no notion of the majesties’ musical tutelage and refined ear, and though the Players had undergone the requisite training, they were no Marridon opera. They felt themselves only a pale imitation of what a company with many years’ experience could provide. They were a comedic and dramatic troupe which borrowed its singers from the Frewyn choir, but here there would be no choir to support them. They were on their own to be judged and rated against everything they had been used to perform, but the butter biscuits in the Den Asaan’s hand and the king’s jerkin were enough to influence them into a more blithesome state; these were marks of the forbearance with which they ought to be treated, and the instant the director called the play to begin, they were at their places, crossing their fingers for luck and saying their prayers that no one should trip over and break the sets this time.
Tinley took his place to the left of the audience and waited for everyone to be in place to call for the lights in the house to be doused. Once there was the silence to signal everyone’s preparation, the candles on the stage were lit and the orchestra began its symphony. The overture was long and grand, as the title of the opera recommended it should be, and the moment there was a lull in the stridency of music, Carrigh and Alasdair glanced at one another in grim confusion.
“This doesn’t sound like it’s going to be a happy tale,” said Alasdair softly.
Carrigh’s eyes crinkled with smile lines. “I told you, sire, that all Marridon operas end in tragedy.”
“Then they might very well kill me after all.”
“No, sire. You’re the king. They might make you lose your sword arm, which I understand is popular in Marridon operas, having the hero lose an arm to show that no glory is obtained without sacrifice.”
“I need my arms, especially my right one,” said Alasdair, glancing at his limbs with chariness. “Can’t they take a toe or a finger instead?”
“No one can see a finger being cut off from the balcony,” Carrigh giggled.
The overture was suddenly finished, and the king and queen were obliged to be silent once more as the curtain drew up into festoons and the sconces on the back wall were lit.
The first scene to grace the stage was the prospect of a very vibrant and neat little farm, furnished with two painted cows and some pretty chickens pecking about the verdant downs. A flute played to signify the trilling of birds, a paper sun was let up behind the farmhouse, and a woman suddenly immerged from within the barn. She was small, thin, and heavy-breasted for her size, her lips were trapped in a continual pout, her blue eyes glittered with the tinge of innocence, and she sang in a shrill and trilling voice of the misfortune of being a farmer’s daughter.
The commander understood from the depiction that this was meant to be an image of her life before the war, and she did her utmost not to laugh too loudly. “Well, at the very least I’m well-groomed,” she snickered. “I daresay I never looked half so shining in all my life. Only painted chickens can be so forthcoming. If they knew what vicious creatures hens were, they should never have placed me beside them with bare feet.”
“I think that’s meant to signify your poverty,” Alasdair whispered.
“Is it? Then I shall disregard the crisp shirt and handsome overalls I’m wearing.”
The party laughed, making the actress on stage instantly nervous as conveyed by her inconstant notes, and they contrived to be as quiet as was possible until the intermission should arrive, if there was one to be had at all.
The first song had done, and once the fair Boudicca had finished recanting her woes of privation, the sets changed, the farm was done away, and a troupe of tenors dressed as Galleisians entered. They pillaged the farm, wheeled in cardboard fires, and began to sing of their happy destruction of Frewyn’s countryside. All now seemed accurate, until two Galleisian soldiers entered with the fair Boudicca in hand and took her toward the painted Church to being having their way with her.
Alasdair sighed and rubbed his brow. “By the Gods,” he swore, gawping at the fair Boudicca singing for help as she was rived by the men.
“I do wonder,” the commander said smirkingly, “how my losing my father and fighting off his assailants translated into my personal violation.”
“That didn’t really happen, commander,” said Connors in a questioning tone.
“No, Connors. I would have remembered if it had.”
Most thought it a ridiculous prospect, to have a woman singing so gaily about so horrific an atrocity, and though they laughed it off, there was one amongst the party who could not laugh at such a catastrophic display: the Den Asaan, though able to regard the skill in the sets, remark the quality of the costumes and the bearableness of the previous aria, could not condone his mate being portrayed in such a manner. Her violation by the Galleisians was not only a falsehood but it was so debase a deception as to incite his fury instantly. His eyes flared in simmering wrath. He placed his hand on his sword, nearly stood, and prepared to roar his disapprobation, but a hand on his wrist stopped him and drew his attention to the box of butter biscuits at that moment being opened. His indignation did not cease, but seeing his mate’s smiling countenance while offering him a treat suggested his sitting down again. Sampling the smoothness of the chocolate and the mellifluousness of the toffee persuaded him to defer his retaliation at least until the end of the first act. With his eyes on his mate and his mind contemplating the salty sweetness of his treats, the giant was appeased, but the Frewyn Players could not be so easy, for they knew that what was to come next might be far more offensive to the Den Asaan than seeing the commander’s representation abused could be.
With the unpleasantness over, fair Boudicca escaped from her captors and fled to the painted Church, but not without receiving her share of wounds. A wooden sword protruded from her side and she soon began to sing of her future as a barren and useless woman while crawling up the Church steps.
“My injury was far more gallant than that,” the commander scoffed. “The violation at least would have been pleasant would it have been you, Iimon Ghaala, but to stab me when I’m already debilitated shows an inaccuracy I cannot forgive.”
“But it shows how you overcame so much misfortune,” said Teague, trying to suppress a smile.
“And now that they have declared me as useless with my farm and my ability to have children stricken from me, only then may I be of use to my kingdom? I joined the armed forces to avenge my father’s murder and was injured saving a certain king’s life. I should think that is tragedy and heroism enough for this play.”
Teague simpered to himself and looked about at the rest of the party. Expressions of restrained anger, mild bemusement and aversion were all he descried in the dimmed light of the front row, excepting the Den Asaan, who though still sitting with his hand on the hilt of his blade, was inclined to give his attention to what he was eating rather than what he was watching.
Fair Boudicca then fainted and the orchestra played in the Reverend Mother who opened the door of the painted Church to find the defiled farmer at her feet. She called to have Boudicca taken inside where she was pampered to life again with song by many of the Sisters fluttering about her. Birds and woodland creatures crooned to rouse her, and when fair Boudicca sat up, she was revived with uproarious conviction. She was to go into the armed forces, she alone would save Frewyn from destruction, and the Church was whisked away to reveal a garrison littered with bare-chested men singing of the drudgery in training. Fair Boudicca wandered into the bewildering world of the army, terrified by the clash of swords and the grunts of exertion, and when she reached the conscription table was finally greeted by a handsome, straight-smiled, muscular and slender-waisted soldier who introduced himself as the Prince of Frewyn.
“I would never have done that,” Alasdair protested defensively. “Vyrdin was the one who reintroduced us, and I certainly wouldn’t have said hello to you if I had been undressed at the time.”
Carrigh gently hushed her husband and placed the finger pointing to the half-naked tenor back into his lap.
“It would seem that the illustrator of the invitation and your darling wife have done better to dress you than the costumer has done for your counterpart,” said the commander. “Would you have pageanted yourself about the garrison in such a manner, Dobhin should have plagued you even more than he already did.”
Alasdair rolled his eyes and chuffed. “Well, I hope at least to have a few fantastic fights and come out just as pristine as I look there. Otherwise I’m inclined to believe that this whole play is hopeless.”
They had heard him. Over the din of the muted orchestra, the Players had heard the king’s aspersions, and they began to worry. They looked to their director for assistance, hoping that he would reassure the royal party that the subject and content of this opera was all his idea, but Tilney did not move from his seat. The complacent smile and upright posture as he urged them to go on conveyed his pride for the piece. He showed no regard for the impropriety he might be inflicting. Even though he was incurring the royal parties’ injurious looks, he maintained a wistful aspect while prompting every actor through his speeches. The more they portrayed the king as a boastful and overly valiant character, the more discomposed Alasdair grew and the happier Tilney was.
Synopsis: When due homage is paid to the heroes of Frewyn, what could possibly go wrong?
The Frewyn Players at the Royal Theatre in Diras are looking for new material to perform when a famous director from Marridon arrives to impart a Marridon theatrical pastime that is certain to make them famous. An opera will be their new performance, one that glorifies Frewyn’s greatest heroes, but what begins as homage ends as mockery, and the play that would make them the greatest exhibition in Frewyn might instead make them the Den Asaan’s most merited enemy.
About The Author:
Michelle Franklin is a woman of moderate consequence who writes many books about giants, romance and chocolate.
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