Disclaimer: Lost Odyssey was developed by Mistwalker and published by Microsoft Game Studios. All the copyrights associated with Lost Odyssey belong to them. Only the ideas contained within this story are the property of the author. No profit is being earned by the writer of this story.
No Dude Plays a Harp
It was early morning. Ming had risen just before sunrise as was her usual habit. She leisurely strolled across the deck, breathing in the fresh cool air to wake up her senses while admiring the first rays of the sun as it rose on the eastern horizon. Her travel companions were still asleep in their bed chambers. As much as she enjoyed the others' company, particularly Jansen's, she needed some time alone in order to clear her mind. She stopped and lightly gripped the railing of the White Boa as she surveyed the deep calm water. She shut her eyes, deeply inhaled then slowly exhaled, willing herself to empty her mind of stress and worries in order to ready herself for the challenges of the new day. After finishing her meditation, she returned to her quarters where her ladies-in-waiting had prepared a warm jasmine-scented bath for her. She bathed and dressed before heading toward the music room.
The royal music chamber walls were painted a serene light blue color. A window faced the east and the morning light softly illuminated the raised circular platform in the center of the room where her harp stood. Ming entered the room and the sight of her favorite instrument lifted her troubled spirits. During her lonely years spent in exile, her sole consolation had been music. Although she was well-versed in the playing of several musical instruments, the instrument that brought her the most joy was her harp. It was constructed of a rare aromatic white wood from a tree that grew only in the Crimson Forest. The wood was covered in a beautiful veneer finish adorned with intricate carvings decorated with gold leaf. Lovingly handcarved for her by a master craftsman, she played it often in order to soothe her mind, particularly in times of political turmoil.
Ming closed her eyes as she contemplated what song to play this morning. She finally decided on an ancient melody that she had learned almost a millenium ago from a bard of the Eastern Tribe who had been one of her few friends during her exile. She positioned the harp between her knees and rested it over her right shoulder. She plucked the strings with her fingers, gracefully moving her body in time with the melody. She imagined herself back in the Crimson Forest before it was stained red from bloody conflict. In those days, a rainbow of flowers carpeted the forest floor and brightly tinted leaves drifted from the green canopy overhead. As she played, she again smelled the earthy, woodsy scent of the unspoiled forest and again felt the softness of green moss cushioning her steps.
As the last notes faded away and her senses drifted back to the present, she gradually became aware of another presence in the room. She turned her head and noticed Tolten standing by the open door, seemingly mesmerized. He appeared to have just risen from bed. He was not yet dressed in his royal armor but was instead clad in a pair of dark trousers and a white long-sleeved shirt casually open to the chest.
After a momentary silence, Tolten realized Ming had finished playing and was intently looking at him. Tolten blushed and stammered. "I…I am truly sorry, Queen Ming, if I disturbed you. I happened to be on my way out for my morning exercise when I heard the music," he explained apologetically, "I come this way every morning and usually the door is closed but today it was open. I couldn't help overhearing the lovely harp song and thought to look inside to see who was playing."
Ming realized that she must have absentmindedly left the door open. She usually closed it in order to preserve her solitude during her morning music session. The loss of her private time annoyed her and her feeling of peace instantly evaporated. She unwittingly scowled.
Tolten noticed her expression and rubbed his neck nervously. "I…I suppose I should go now." His head was bent and his shoulders hunched downwards, appearing very much like a reprimanded schoolboy.
Ming immediately felt sorry and regretted her rude behavior. She wanted to put him at ease. It wasn't the young man's fault that she had forgotten to close the chamber door. "No need to do that Tolten. You can stay if you'd like." She patted the padded stool that was near her seat.
Tolten cautiously answered. "Are…are you sure? You look as if you desire to be alone. I don't want to inconvenience you."
"No…no, don't be silly. I can use a little company," Ming answered. She smiled reassuringly.
The young man shyly entered the room and walked over to sit on a stool by Ming. Most of what he knew about the Numaran queen had been learned from his world history lessons. He was somewhat in awe of her. Not only was she the only female head of state in the known world, but she had ruled without break for nearly a thousand years. He marveled that she was able to have the political resiliency to avoid assassination attempts, coup d'etats and rebellions that had commonly plagued and ended the rule of other nations' leaders.
Tolten had known since his boyhood that he was not a military man at heart, although he tried for his father's sake. It was difficult being the only son of the Uhran monarch—so much pressure to live up to his title. He did well in his schooling and mastered the physical training required of his royal station. However, his heart was not in it and he felt that his father sensed his ambivalence. Many times he wished he could run away and live as a commoner without the royal duties that were entailed to him. He guiltily wondered whether his father had declared Uhra a republic in order to spare him the responsibility of ruling as king of the country. Perhaps his father did not feel he was worthy of being a successor to the proud line of Uhran kings. This filled him with sadness and contributed to his insecurity.
Ming had started playing the harp again. It was another Eastern Tribe song, composed of a haunting melody. Tolten silently watched Ming, admiring her graceful motions as her slender fingers skillfully plucked the strings. Her arms and torso swayed and kept time with the music. He sensed a deep sorrow in the song that touched his heart and added to the sadness that he was already feeling from not having lived up to his father's expectations. As the last notes faded away, Tolten lowered his face and blinked back some tears. He didn't mean to get emotional but this usually happened when a music piece particularly moved him.
"Are you all right?" Ming asked with a little concern. Tolten appeared particularly fragile this morning, she thought.
Tolten took a minute to regain his composure before answering. "I'm all right. It was just that the melody was so touching. Where did you learn it?" Tolten asked.
"Ah…there was once a bard I knew from the Eastern Tribe. This is a traditional song typically sung by women as they see their loved ones off to battle. He adapted it for the harp." Ming explained. "Here, I don't want to leave you with your spirits down. Let me play a piece that is not so melancholy."
Ming began another song. This one was sprightly, with flourishes and runs that showed off her skill as a harpist. The tempo quickened, faster and faster, as her slender fingers plucked the chords in an increasingly intricate pattern. Joy filled Ming's heart as she surrendered herself to the music and she forgot about her earlier annoyance with Tolten. She decided to play the entire arrangement which she rarely indulged in since it was lengthy. When she was finished, her eyes were bright and cheeks flushed.
"That was extraordinary," Tolten cried, clapping his hands. His eyes were filled with admiration. She was an excellent harpist. "I wish that my father had approved of music—sometimes I would steal away to listen to the royal musicians and beg them to teach me. I would have dearly loved to have learned how to play the harp," Tolten said wistfully.
"It is not too difficult. Would you like to try? I could teach you," Ming offered.
"I…I would not want to further interrupt your session," Tolten answered.
The look in his eyes however belied his boyish eagerness. Ming didn't have the heart to send him away. "You're not interrupting at all," Ming assured him. "Why don't you take my place? I can show you how to play a few chords." Ming rose from her seat.
"Are you sure? I have not had any formal training," Tolten said apologetically. "My skill will be far inferior to yours and I am afraid you might laugh at my expense."
Ming reassured him. "Oh, don't be ridiculous. I would never laugh at you. The harp is a very forgiving instrument, as long as someone has the heart and desire to play." She again gestured for him to take her seat.
Tolten felt encouraged and sat down in her place. Ming moved behind him and gently touched his arms. He could smell her jasmine scent and blushed slightly. He had also learned through his history lessons that the Queen of Numara had never married despite many admirers. He figured that it would have to be a very special someone who could capture this queen's affections. He briefly wondered whether he could be such a person. Dismissing the thought, he focused his attention back to what she was saying.
"Now, you place both your hands like this, with the fingers plucking on the strings, just so, as you move back and forth." Ming explained. She stood behind Tolten and reached around him in order to guide his hands in the movement. Tolten was consciously aware of her behind him and felt her brush against his shoulders. He shook his head slightly to clear his mind and followed her guidance.
He placed his fingers on the appropriate strings and soon he was plucking a few chords. Music filled the room. He decided to try a combination of chords, similar to what Ming was playing earlier. Despite lack of formal training, he handled the strings with an ease and confidence that was surprising.
"Very good…" Ming said approvingly, "It appears that you are a natural." She bent her head down to smile at him and patted his cheek. Tolten looked up at her with a contented smile. Neither of them noticed the tall figure that silently slipped into the room.
Jansen was in a foul mood. He had been wandering around the ship looking for Ming. She usually made it to breakfast by 9 a.m. Here it was almost 10 and she had not appeared. He was worried that she might have taken ill but none of her ladies-in-waiting knew where she had gone. He finally thought to check the music room. As he approached the chamber, he could hear the familiar strains of harp music and felt comforted. Ah, it brought back fond memories of the first time he had met her. He self-consciously smoothed his hair and straightened his clothes.
The door to the room was slightly ajar and he pushed it open. He caught a glimpse of Ming's red hair then her trim curvaceous figure. The sight of her made his heart skip a beat. He was about to call out her name when he noticed a tousled golden head of hair next to hers and manly fingers plucking the harp strings. What the hell?! That was Tolten playing the harp! And what was Ming doing standing so damn close to the young king?
Jansen quietly entered the room. He felt a piercing stab of jealousy as he looked at the two of them, smiling at each other. They were obviously enjoying themselves and sharing a tender moment. He saw Ming's small hand touch Tolten's cheek. Jansen's own hands unintentionally curled into fists and an orange light flickered in his right palm as he began to see red.
"Ahemm…Am I interrupting something here that I should be interrupting?" Jansen said loudly. The two turned, startled, at the sound of his voice. Jansen slowly walked toward them with a steely look in his face. His gaze was fixed on Tolten. He noted with satisfaction that golden boy looked frightened.
"Jansen!" Ming cried, noting a flame beginning to take hold of the right sleeve of Jansen's robe.
Jansen awakened from his trance. He smelled a slight burning. "What the…yikes!" Jansen yelped, and frantically waved his right arm up and down trying to put out the fire. His actions only made the flame grow larger.
Ming quickly extended her hand and a spray of ice extinguished the fire.
"Damn! That's the fourth robe I've gone through this week," Jansen complained. He looked mournfully at his singed sleeve, momentarily forgetting what had originally brought him into the room in the first place. He looked up and saw Tolten sitting by Ming's harp. He suddenly remembered and his expression turned into a frown.
"Jansen, what is the meaning of this behavior?" Ming asked sharply.
He had reached the dais and towered ominously over Tolten who was cowering on the stool. "I didn't know the boy king had a thing for harps," Jansen muttered. From his vantage point, Jansen quickly noted that the heir to the Uhran throne was not wearing his royal armor this morning. Instead, the young man was dressed in a shirt open at the neck that emphasized a well-muscled chest. Not only was Tolten blessed with a royal bloodline, he had a handsome face and well-cut physique that would be appealing to women—like Ming. This realization worsened Jansen's already foul mood.
"He came in this morning while I was playing one of my songs and asked me if I would teach him to play. I was happy to oblige him," Ming explained.
"Were you going to oblige him in anything else?" Jansen asked in a tight voice, "Because it looked like you two were getting a little too cozy here."
At this, Tolten quickly stood up with his face flushed. He could sense the tension between the couple. "I assure you, Jansen, there was nothing of a kind going on here. Queen Ming was kind enough to humor my request to learn how to play the harp."
"Oh-ho, private morning music lessons? Well I'm sure that's harmless," Jansen said in a tone that clearly conveyed that he didn't think so.
"Really Jansen, I don't know what the problem is," Ming answered as the mage continued to glower at an increasingly uncomfortable Tolten. She wondered why she felt so defensive. It wasn't as if there was anything improper going on. She didn't like the accusatory tone in Jansen's voice.
"I…I guess I should be going now. I didn't realize that the time was getting late," Tolten turned and bowed slightly toward Ming. "Thank you, your highness for accommodating me. It was very gracious of you."
"Why, you're so very welcome Tolten. Please, come by again and I would be happy to give you more lessons. You have a gift for the harp and it would be such a shame not to cultivate it," Ming replied, ignoring Jansen's snort of derision. "It's such a pleasure to be able to share my music with someone who sincerely appreciates it."
Ming smiled warmly at Tolten who bowed his head in acknowledgement. She held out her right hand. Tolten grasped it hesitantly trying to decide whether it was appropriate to kiss it, all the while admiring the shapely, slender ivory fingers cradled between his two palms. He quickly dropped her hand, however, after he glanced at the tall mage standing behind her. Jansen's eyes glowed an unearthly red and it appeared as if they were attempting to fry him alive.
"Tha…thank you, your majesty for the offer. I will surely consider taking you up on it," Tolten answered hastily. "I best be taking my leave now."
"Yes, you best be," Jansen agreed as Tolten quickly strode to the door. "And I wouldn't spend too much time considering harp lessons. I think it might be better for your health if you took up some other form of recreation—like maybe jumping off tall cliffs," he called after the retreating figure.
"Was that really necessary?" Ming demanded after Tolten left, her hands on her hips. Her brow was crinkled and her lips had become a thin line. "You frightened him."
Jansen was about to reply with a smart remark about how that was his intention when he noticed that Ming seemed genuinely upset. Her chin was raised and her stance reminded him vaguely of Cooke when she was protecting Mack. He wondered why Ming was defending Tolten. He silently noted that that her bosom was heaving and a slight flush extended from her cheeks to her neck and down to the rounded curves of her breasts. He couldn't help admiring her figure and fought a strong urge to pull her toward him and bury his face in her neck and chest.
Jansen desperately wanted to believe that there was something special between Ming and himself after sharing that momentous kiss on the deck. As much as he had wanted to further act on it, he had been reluctant to do anything that might jeopardize their relationship. In the past, whenever he had found a willing woman who succumbed to either his flattery, gold or both, he had had no qualms at all about bedding her. Ming, however, was different and he couldn't bring himself to treat her as another brief fling. This had been the longest dry period for him without a woman and it tested his willpower. He had suffered through numerous cold showers and cure-all spells over the past few weeks to control his desire for her. Fortunately, there had been plenty of battles to keep him occupied and, although he hated fighting, shooting off flare and prism spells proved to be an excellent form of release for his pent-up frustrations.
Now it appeared that she was getting along splendidly with the heir to the Uhran throne, Jansen thought jealously. The look on her face clearly showed that she had feelings for the young king. While it was true that the two of them shared much more in common than he and Ming, he thought it extremely unfair that Tolten should be trying to win Ming's affections now. Tolten was descended from a line of kings, had jewel-encrusted armor and owned his own country. How could Jansen compete with that? He wondered if she regretted her kiss with him.
Ming watched the play of emotions on Jansen's face. Although she was still upset about Jansen's ill treatment of Tolten, she could see that he was truly jealous. The realization strangely warmed her heart. He was showing a hint of possessiveness. This meant that he truly cared about her. Over the past few days, she had been beginning to wonder. Jansen had seemed distant and circumspect in his actions after their kiss on the deck, particularly around the others. He hadn't even tried so much as to hold her hand, making her wonder if their moment together had meant anything to him. She was missing his touch but now suspected that he was consciously trying to mask his feelings. Suddenly, she wondered if she could use this situation to her advantage.
Ming tapped her foot to get his attention. "Jansen, I'm still waiting for an answer."
Jansen tried to think of an excuse. Now that Tolten was gone, his anger had dissipated and he regretted his quick temper. God, he didn't want Ming to be upset with him. "Hey, I was just surprised, you know, that's all. Didn't mean to scare the guy," Jansen lied, trying to minimize his actions. He ran a hand through his hair. "I, ah…didn't know you gave private music lessons," he added, trying to change the subject.
"If you'd like to learn how to play, I can give you a short introduction right now," Ming said gesturing to her stool.
"Uh…" Jansen said, suddenly hesitant. "I got to tell you Ming. I don't…really, I…I…"
"Oh come on Jansen, are you scared?" Ming asked, in mock surprise.
"No!" Jansen replied, defensively. "I mean…hell, yes, of course. I don't want to make a fool of myself. The harp's a girl instrument. This could be really embarrassing if anyone saw me. I mean, no dude plays the harp. Now Tolten…he's another story…"
"Really now! I'm quite surprised at your reaction," Ming said, "Women happen to find musicians…very sexy." She cast a seductive side glance toward Jansen. Now she had him, she thought.
"Oh…Well, if that's the case," he said, suddenly changing his mind. "Maybe, I ought to, you know, maybe try to become more…cultured," He straddled the stool, sat down and flexed his fingers. "Now, how does this go?" He stretched out his arms to reach the strings but found that the bulky sleeves of his robe impeded his movement.
"Remove your garment if you want to have more freedom." Ming suggested holding out her hand.
"Okay," Jansen replied, untying his sash and awkwardly shrugging out of his mage's robe while trying not to let the harp crash onto the floor. He handed the garment to Ming who placed it on the stand beside her. Jansen wore a brightly printed long-sleeved shirt that fit snugly across his wide shoulders and torso.
Though his arms were not as muscular as Tolten's, Jansen's lean frame suited him and nicely complimented his handsome looks, Ming thought.
"Now, let's start with some simple chords," she began. "Let me guide you."
In his sitting position, Jansen's head only came up to Ming's chin. Having been used to looking up at him due to his taller height, Ming enjoyed the novelty of this vantage point. She admired his broad shoulders and the vulnerable nape of his neck. A few loose strands of his dark hair curled and just brushed the top of his scarf. She noticed that the morning light slanting through the window enhanced subtle auburn highlights in his dark hair. Ming eased her arms around him and gently grasped his upper arms. She felt his biceps involuntarily tense up under her touch. Deceitful man, she thought. He desired her touch as much as she desired his. Why had he been resisting over these past few days?
"Now, I want you to position your arms on both sides of the harp strings," she instructed, "That's right. Now, notice the red string in the center there. Rest the fourth finger of your right hand on it, then skip the next string and place your third finger on the next one. Do the same with your second and first finger."
Jansen looked perplexed. "Uh…"
"Here," Ming moved to the right side of the harp and placed his fingers in the proper position. She went to the left side and did the same with the fingers of his other hand. "Now, pluck the strings like this." She stood beside him and stretched out her arms, playing an imaginary harp alongside him.
Jansen crinkled his brow then tried to imitate her movements. He plucked the strings and the melodic sound of musical chords briefly filled the room. "Hey, that didn't sound half bad," Jansen said, pleased with himself. He ran his fingers up and down the strings, enjoying the sound. "Say, can you teach me some of that, you know…that fancier stuff that Tolten was playing?"
"Hmm…I don't know. Tolten possesses natural talent. Whereas you…" Ming replied impishly. "But, I suppose I could try if you're willing to follow my lead."
"Of course. I mean, I can't let golden boy show me up. Got to maintain my reputation," Jansen answered. He suddenly chuckled to himself. "Though I can't believe I'm playing a damn harp!"
Ming returned to her place behind Jansen. As she bent toward him, she could smell a clean, woodsy scent emanating from his hair that reminded her of the forest. As Jansen continued to ramble on about how he had never before considered the virtues of playing any musical instrument, let alone the harp, Ming unwittingly found herself brushing her cheek against the silky softness of his ponytail. She let the feathery end caress her forehead and then her eyelids. Unable to help herself, she entwined her fingers into his hair and pulled his head backwards to look up at her. His sherry colored eyes registered surprise as his mouth formed a shape of an O. Before he had a chance to speak, she covered his lips with her own in a deep kiss. With her free hand, she traced his cheek bones, his chin, his neck, the solid contour of his chest and downward to his abdomen. Jansen grabbed her wrist and stopped her hand from travelling further. She broke off her kiss and instead began to nibble at the tender flesh behind his ear.
"Ming…don't…ah, you don't know what you're doing to me," Jansen said groaning. "You really shouldn't, no you should…Uh, I mean, shouldn't, you know… I don't think…" He could feel her luscious curves brushing against his back through the thin material of his shirt and felt his defenses crumbling. The tickling sensation behind his ear was almost unbearable and he could feel himself becoming aroused. He really had been trying to exercise more self-control. It wasn't proper to engage in any hanky-panky on the ship, especially being in close quarters with children on board. Besides, he had gotten it into his head that they needed to have a proper old-fashioned courtship—her being royalty and all. At this moment, however, Ming was making it difficult for him to adhere to, let alone, remember his resolution.
"Mmm…hmmm," Ming murmured. She further entangled her fingers in his hair, strangely enjoying the feeling of physical control over him. "Consider it…part of your lesson." She whispered in his ear.
"Lesson?" Jansen asked confused. Oh yes, she had been teaching him…something.
Ming released the grip on his hair and kissed his forehead before moving to stand before him. She tilted her head and studied him. Jansen felt uncomfortable under her intense gaze and raised his hand to feel his ear, suddenly alarmed. "Hey, you didn't leave a mark there did you?"
Ming threw her head back and laughed. "I guess you would deserve that for your treatment of Tolten. No darling, I did not damage your sensitive skin. That was to remind you that you are still the only one for me." She cupped his chin in her hand. "I would appreciate it if you remember that. That is your lesson for today."
Ming turned around, then stepped off the platform and headed toward the door. Jansen quickly stood up and pulled on his robe. He straightened his ponytail and hurriedly followed her.
"Hey Ming," Jansen anxiously asked as they left the chamber together, "Is there going to be a lesson number two?"