The bride screamed. Her flawless wedding day was ruined. Another shrill scream echoed through the small castle chapel. Tears ran down the bride’s pale face. The liquid cut through the silver-and-pearl powder, leaving trails of flushed red flesh. She stood alone near the small, glowing orb and the traveling priest. A third scream caused the assembled family and friends of the would-be-bride to shift uncomfortably in their benches.
Never before had they witnessed such unrestrained emotion in the young lady. Finally, the girl’s mother stood and walked to her daughter. She embraced her tightly and led her away. With her own body, she shielded the sobbing young bride from sight.
The father of the groom opened a door for them. His face was pale in barely-restrained anger. “I’m so sorry.” he managed through tight lips. “This isn’t…” He sighed and rested his hand on his face. “Please, go freshen up. I will search for my son. You have my word, he will not soon live down this horrible insult to your family.” His hazel eyes seemed to flash with fire as he bowed. “The search begins immediately.” He walked away as the bride’s mother led her away.
Over the next several months, news of the abandoned wedding spread like spilled wine on a white table covering. Word of the scandal, and the stain to the name of the groom’s family, lingered on the lips of every noble in the country, and even the common people knew of the groom’s shame. Troops from the groom’s family roamed the land, seeking out the missing son.
More months passed, and eventually, a year. The shame began to fade, and the unfortunate bride was wed to another man at the insistence of her parents. Rumors told that she wept nightly, for her new husband was cruel.
A summer day came, and a man with stubble on his face shaded his eyes as he looked up at the sky. “I wonder what day it is.” he murmured with a laugh. “I should go to town.” His tone was carefree as he stood. Hazel eyes looked around, and he pulled a mask onto his face. The mask covered only half of his face, and was a deep green in color with dark green and brown paint in tiny, delicate designs like lace.
The man stretched. His dirty black clothes held tight to the dusty dirt from the road he traveled. He pulled on his cloak and fastened it with a silver leaf that was enameled with the veins using a deep green that matched his mask. The cloak was threadbare in some places. It was tattered and worn. Dirt clung with more ferocity to his cloak than to his clothing.
The masked man looked for his boots. When he didn’t find them, he frowned, but shrugged and began to walk away, only to run right into one of the missing foot-pieces as it dangled from a low branch by its laces.
“Well, when did you get there?” He asked the boot, as though he expected a response. The man sighed and reached up to free the rogue article. With several choice curses, he finally retrieved his single boot. The sole was worn thin, and nearly useless. He pulled it on without a thought, and laced it up over his pant leg. “I wonder where your mate is.” The man searched a few minutes. His eyes looked up this time, and he soon found his missing boot. He pulled it on, same as the other, and laced it.
“I feel decent enough to go to town. Shall we?” The man bowed before a sealed leather tube, not unlike a map case, and reached forward. He picked it up and slung it over one shoulder, gripping the handle in a lazy hand. He strolled toward a town, chattering to the tube as though it was an old friend.
As he entered town, several children screeched in joy. This was not his first visit, and they recalled the grand time they had the year before. “Piper! Piper!” They cried. “Play us a song! Lead a dance!” they demanded all at once. A few concerned parents peered from their doorways. They smiled at the scruffy man and waved. A few called out dinner invitations in exchange for stories of his travels.
The man called Piper waved with a smile, surprised to find old friends, but far from unhappy. His smile was wide as he walked to the center of town. He pulled his map case around and unfastened the buckle. He pulled out a fine-looking wooden flute. It was glossy, and made of imported black wood, with rings of silver and ivory. It shone, and as he began to play, cheery music filled the town. Children played at singing along, though none knew the words to the made-up song.
Music and laughter lasted for an hour or two before the man sat with a laugh. “I missed all of you!” He exclaimed happily. “I hadn’t realized I turned around.” He looked thoughtful. “I suppose this explains why everything looked so familiar!” The man laughed at his own lame joke, and a few children giggled.
“Piper, join us for dinner!” a woman called. “It’s the birthday of the wife of the earl’s heir in only a week! There will be much need for someone who plays such a happy tune.”
Piper tilted his head. “It is? Well, I should stay long enough to say Happy Birthday! What is the lovely lady’s name?” He tilted his head curiously.
“Why, her name is Young Lady Edaline Starrik, originally from the Novieua family.” The woman nodded.
“Why, I’d not heard her wed!” The man stood, his lips pursed. “I do hope he treats her well.”
“Sadly, no. The servants say she avoids him because he beats her.” Another woman spoke, eager to spread gossip.
“Beats her? How horrid. Perhaps I shall make her laugh and be merry on her birthday, then!” Piper raised his flute to the sky, and it shone in the warm sunlight. “This I swear, I’ll make the lady laugh!”