The Cirayla (harp)

The Cirayla (an extract from Songbird (c) J Victoria Michael)

The music stopped, torn from the air in mid-note. Began again. Stopped. Started. Someone was practising. A reedy instrument Irenya couldn’t quite place and a simple melody in measured two-four time, sliding and swaying from major to minor. She tiptoed towards the dining-hall doors and put her ear to the beaten silver overlay.

     The melody began again, this time accompanied by strings, plucked and stroked, the chords sweeping from a clean treble to a deep, resonant bass. Percussion and drones rounded out the background. Irenya focused on the sound of the strings…a harp…a large harp. Gut strings, judging by the quality. The bass must be long and thick to produce that resonance. The music ended with a lingering chord, not the rousing finale she expected.

     She heard the murmur of voices from within. It ceased and another piece of music began, the pace and volume building to an exuberant drum roll. One of the silver handles turned and a door opened. The high chamberlain sailed through, swept from the hall by the swagger of the music. He halted when he saw her. The sound danced around his portly frame. Irenya rose on the balls of her feet, staring over his shoulder.

     ‘Goddess greetings, lady,’ he intoned and stepped to one side. She sidled past him and heard the door close behind her. The smell of Aeryl’s lavender wax hung in the air. Irenya stared in disbelief at a harp far larger than she had imagined. Two harps, side by side, the frame for each joined at the centre. The complete structure formed a shape suggestive of a moth or butterfly. The whole thing stood higher than the man who was playing. He was long-limbed, but his reach would not allow him to play both sets of strings. Of course! For two harpists. Imagine the sound from that!  The music ended in a flourish.

     ‘Well, Lady Olwin?’ The man leaned around the instrument to address someone hidden by another winged shape in front of the harp. A young woman moved into view. The man spoke again. ‘What is your–’ He broke off to follow the woman’s gaze. The other musicians turned.

     Prodded by five frank stares, Irenya stepped back. ‘Sorry,’ she said.

     The woman hurried forward. ‘Irenya, I believe. Greetings, sister. I am Olwin, niece to Lord Gedric.’

     Irenya’s mouth tightened at the name Gedric, but she forced a smile. ‘I heard the music.’

     ‘Then join us, please.’ Olwin linked arms with her. ‘We would be happy to hear your opinion. Leachim told me you are a musician.’

     Irenya shrugged off the claim, but allowed herself to be towed around the instrument. The partially hidden winged shape stopped her. A griffin crouched in front of the central support, its feathered pinions concealing the sound boxes. Gold leaf decorated its talons and beak, and small gemstones glistened here and there among the carved feathers. The wood looked quite new. Where the griffin throne discharged raw power, this creature was a thing of beauty, though it shared one quality with the griffin throne; they both appeared to be ready for flight.

     A softly plucked minor chord lured her from further reverie. The man was watching her through a mist of strings. He fingered a spill of notes. ‘I see by your expression that your interest,’ he plucked a single note as if it were a question mark, ‘is more than passing. Come.’ She stepped around the griffin’s wing, stroked the smooth wooden frame then touched the strings with knowing fingers. She found a few familiar chords. ‘It’s very beautiful,’ she murmured. ‘The tone…the resonance… It’s a while since I’ve played a harp.’

     ‘It is not a harp,’ said Olwin as Irenya sat beside her. ‘It is a cirayla. The most beautiful one in the realm.’

     Another musician stepped forward and stood in front of the cirayla, a plump, soft-faced man, dressed in self-effacing brown. The soft punctuation of a small drum and the notes from a flute announced the next piece. The man drew breath and began to sing…

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