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It was a busy night at the Warlock's Folly Saloon. It was exactly the sort of down and out bar frequented by the sorry segment of humanity that polite society trends to ignore. Drunks, prostitutes both on duty and off, hard luck hucksters and low life criminals were all frequent customers.
The foundations of the decrepit building had been laid ages ago though the walls and ceiling had been burned down and rebuilt countless times since then. The current iteration of Warlock's Folly had been rebuilt only thirty years ago after burning to the foundation during a riot.

Nothing of the previous building had survived except a beat up old grand piano tucked away on the corner of warped wooden stage. It was purchased third or fourth hand from some bankrupt lesser noble many many years ago, and had not been properly tuned or cared for since. By some miracle, the flames did not consume the once grand instrument. Most nights, the sorry scorched thing sat quiet and unused. On extra busy nights, it was used as an auxiliary bar counter. But tonight, that scorched, out of tune, booze soaked piano would once again sing.

The singer was a young woman, but her eyes said otherwise. Premature wrinkles tugged at the corners of her mouth and dark circles hung beneath her eyes. She was not particularly attractive for a young  woman her age, but the dress she wore and quality of the crowd before her made her the most beautiful woman in the room. As she took the stage, few patrons noticed her. Of the few that did, some let out their cat calls while the rest sat in  quiet disinterest, absorbed in their sorrows and drowning in cheap liquor.  As she took her seat at the ancient once grand piano, she took a final drag from her hand rolled cigarette and snuffed it out in her empty cup.

She closed her tired eyes, and set her calloused fingers to the yellowed keys. Without offering an introduction, she played her opening chord and began into the melody.
"This is something I wrote for a broken heart and a shattered dream," she began in a voice that only a life time of smoking could produce, "cause we're all broken. We all got sorrows."
Some of the men at the counter lifted their glasses in agreement, while the rest continued on their drinking in silence. As she continued to play, the melody began to build. Though the piano was long out of tune, her fingers danced across the keys, producing a mournful sound that was soft as silk but cut deep into the soul like a sharp dagger. A few more patrons turned in their chairs, unable to ignore her.

Finally, the young woman opened her mouth to sing. Everyone expected it to be as hoarse as her speaking voice, but as she continued, she stunned them yet again. Her voice was rich and complex, yet light as a summer breeze. She started quietly enough, building her voice from a quiet draw to a mounting crescendo.

She sang of love, of beauty, and of summer afternoons spent with an unnamed lover. Every eye in the house was on her, and every ear was tuned in. Even the men too drunk to remember their own names sat in a stunned silence, captivated by her voice. But behind it all, tears steamed down her face.

She sang of love because she had none. She sang of happiness, though she did not know it. Her luck had run dry, and so had her wallet. She was too proud to become a prostitute like most other women in her situation, so she sang instead. From bar to bar she would go, playing for tips, and sleeping wherever she could get a room.  Her life was a wreck, and the only time she could convinced herself that she was happy was when she was belting out a tune on stage.

As she sang, the crowded bar sat in reverent silence. In that moment, among the filth, the rabble, and the refuse of society, she was a goddess: perfect and whole. The piano, pathetic, worn and abused, regained a glimpse of it's former glory. Even the crowd, broken, scarred, and cast out by the world felt as though they were in the court of the king himself.

As her set list came to a close, there wasn't a soul in the room whose whole attention was not fixed on her. Even the most hardened hearts couldn't help but just listen. Finally, she played her last chord and sang get final note. As the echoes of her lady song hung heavy in the air, she slowly rose from the piano bench, took a short bow, and walked off the stage. The crowd sat in silence,not willing to believe that such a performance was actually over. By the time they had accepted it, she had already left the stage.

Finally, someone broke the silence with a slow but deliberate clap that quickly grew into thunderous applause. But she did not care. When her songs were done, she would simply fade away into the crowd and collect her tips at the end of the night. She did not sing for them.
While it's not really a fantasy story, it is set in a world I developed for a fantasy type story, so there you go. Enjoy!
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September 8, 2012
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