The minstrel was ushered quickly and quietly into the great hall, where Osric sat waiting. Rumor had reached the duke of a commotion among the people in the village, of roars and cheers at the local inn. The town guard quickly discovered that the source was this minstrel, who had recently arrived and performed a new song for the people. He claimed it had come from across the Sea, from a traveler out of Sildara, and was a true song based on recent events in Nifflgarde.
As the minstrel approached, Osric said in his clear baritone, “You are the minstrel of whom we have heard, singing the song about my son?”
The minstrel, visibly nervous, bowed and said, “My lord duke, I know not if this song is about your son, though the hero’s name seems to match - and it is not a Nifflgarder name. But I can only say that I heard it from a fellow performer out of Sildara some months ago. I added the song to my repertoire, and have been singing it throughout the land since then.”
“Very well, performer. Sing it for me, and I shall judge if it be about my son, or not.”
The performer nodded. “Aye, m’lord. It is called the Lay of Balfrith and the Draugeborg, and is sung, or rather chanted, in the mode of the songs of Nifflgarde. Please excuse some of the poetic forms, for they are a bit rough - but then, so are the men of that land.” He smiled at the last comment, but the duke did not respond, and he quickly became serious again.
Taking his lute, he quickly tuned it with a few experimental strums, then cleared his throat and began:
Out of the west across oceans unending,
Came the companions and Balfrith their leader.
Highest of thanes, son of a jarl,
Clothed in the promise of honor to come.
Balfrith, young master, his youth would betray him,
Men lacking wisdom would judge him unfair.
But those who came with him acknowledged him captain,
They saw in him strength, and the wisdom to lead.
Sought he the mad-sage, Gregori ghost-man,
Friend of the spirits, the curséd of Draugeborg.
Sung he the songs of the heroes of old,
Peace to the spirits, and rest, he would bring.
Met they three days ere the eve of Vetrnacht,
Gregori readying his hall for the coming
Of spirits and rev’nants, the curs’d from the city,
That ruin of old, of the ancients forgotten.
Osric listened as the Lay continued, noting the syllabic structure common to the songs of the men of Nifflgarde, but otherwise paying it little regard. What was important was the story being sung. There can be no doubt that this is about my son, he thought, gazing into the shadows of the room as his mind wandered. His last letter indicated that he was in Sildara and going thence to Nifflgarde, and he even mentioned the place by name, Draugeborg. Therefore it must be about him - but what adventures, or misadventures, has he gotten himself into?
Balfrith, the hero, laid sword on the table,
And sat himself down on the floor for to rest,
To quit of his labors so mighty, and terrible,
To quit of the fight and sleep it did find him.
Duke Osric leaned forward in his seat as the Lay came to an end, the minstrel chanting the final words and ending his strumming simultaneously. Then he bowed, and asked, “Well, my lord duke, what is your judgment? Could this song be about your son? If you think so, I shall make mention of the fact at every performance henceforth.” He said the last in an obvious attempt to curry favor with the duke, who took no visible notice of it.
Instead, Osric merely said, “It is, indeed, about my son. His most recent letter to me indicated that he was in Sildara, and about to travel north into Nifflgarde to the very place of which this song speaks, the Draugeborg. I have heard nothing from him since that letter, and I know not what might have happened there, or in the months since. But I have no doubt that the story tells some truth of what happened to him there.”
The minstrel smiled broadly and bowed again. “Then I shall certainly sing this Lay as being about Balfrith of house Aethelred henceforth, my lord. And I sincerely hope that I may one day meet your son, the hero of the north-men, in the future.”
Osric smiled tightly, allowing his approval to show only slightly, then nodded his dismissal of the minstrel. The guard who has escorted him there, now accompanied him back out of the hall, and the duke was once again left to his thoughts.