Merse’s Lute

It has been a very long week. I’m sure we all have those days/weeks where everything is too much effort. So, in place of a regular blog post this week, have one of the Enorian myths I wrote during my thesis project:

Merse’s Lute

Long ago lived one of Merse’s Cherished Mersians. Zoh was as beautiful as any Mersian, blessed as they were to take after their goddess. Zoh lived near the coast of Merien with their parents and siblings in a town full of other Mersians. This town hosted the largest music festival in all of Enoralori every year, and people came all the way from the northeastern corner of Lirona and the northwestern corner of Ensori, to partake and enjoy in the music and frivolity.

Zoh had been to the festival every year since their birth, watching with joy and dancing along to their parents’ playing and singing. And one by one, their siblings joined in, growing their talent and becoming better and better at singing and playing their flutes and lutes and mandolins. One of Zoh’s sisters played the harp more beautifully than anyone else they’d ever heard. And Zoh wished to partake in their family’s music playing.

But somehow, despite their family’s talent, Zoh was a terrible musician. They didn’t understand why Merse had neglected to bless them with the ability to play or sing. And Zoh loved music. They loved music so much it tore at their soul to be unable to express the beauty they knew to be inside them. And so every year they continued to practice, hoping perhaps the talent filling their family was just late in appearing. Zoh worked harder than anyone they knew. Their parents, being some of the most well-known musicians in town, sent Zoh to all the best teachers, hoping their child just needed to find the right person to teach them, the right instrument to play. Zoh tried out every instrument their parents and teachers could think of. But nothing seemed to work. Zoh continued to be just as terrible as always.

Still, every year at the festival, Zoh tried to perform anyway, hoping maybe all this effort would show Merse how serious they were, hoping maybe she would bless them. And every year, Zoh was laughed off the stage.

One year, after a particularly rough rendition of an old bard’s song where Zoh had plucked all the wrong notes on the harp they’d attempted to learn over the last couple of years, and where they had sung in their usual off-key tone, someone from the crowd shouted at them to just give up already. It was a voice Zoh recognized, one they’d heard many times before. Zoh fled the stage in tears, running to the temple of Merse, where they threw themselves onto the stone floor in front of the towering statue. There, Zoh wept and begged Merse for understanding.

“It’s all right, love,” Zoh’s mother said, having followed them. She knelt beside her child and stroked their long, shining hair. “You have many other talents.”

“I just want to show people the beauty inside me.”

“There are other ways to show your beauty, my love. We’ll find a way.”

Zoh shook their head. It had to be music. They could feel it deep within. Music was the only way to bring out the song their soul cried out to share. But how when their body seemed unable or unwilling to play or sing in such a way that would allow that song to come out?

Zoh’s mother left them to continue their prayer. Barely leaving the temple, Zoh prayed day and night for near a week, begging Merse to grant them the ability to play or sing so they could share with the world that which they so desperately needed to.

And Merse, within her realm, surrounded by beautiful Mersians playing beautiful music, where the sky was always the color of a brilliant sunrise, heard Zoh’s pleas. She had seen how hard Zoh had worked all these years. She saw the purity of their intentions, knew they wanted to play and sing not for fame or glory or riches, but simply to share something wonderful. And Merse appreciated that desire. So she sent Zoh a lute she had blessed long ago. It gave any who held it the ability to play the most glorious music no matter their level of talent. Along with the lute, Merse sent Zoh a message. She appeared to them in their dreams and warned them that playing for prolonged periods could cause madness in the listeners.

When Zoh found the lute beside their bed the next morning, they couldn’t believe their eyes. They had been sure the dream was just that, a dream, but here lay the lute as Merse had promised. And it was the most beautiful instrument Zoh had ever seen. They picked it up gingerly and plucked at the strings, wincing in preparation for the usual mess of sounds. But instead, no matter where Zoh’s fingers moved to, a gentle melody drifted from the lute.

Grinning, Zoh spent the rest of the day playing. And that night they ran to their favorite pub, which always had live music, to test out their new song. When Zoh stepped onto the stage, they were met with a round of groans. Everyone, naturally, assumed they would play and sing just as terribly as they always had. But Zoh didn’t let their bad attitudes bother them. They sat on the stool, closed their eyes to block out the crowd, and started playing.

Everyone’s grumbling and groaning ceased nearly the moment the music started flowing from the lute. It was the most magnificent music anyone there had ever heard before. They listened with rapt attention, gazing in awe at the equally beautiful Mersian sitting on the stool on stage. Zoh swayed with the sound, smiling, lost in the wonder of it.

When the song ended, the pub erupted into cheers and applause and demands for Zoh to play more. Beaming with pride and elation, Zoh agreed. Just one more. And after they finished that song, the people begged for another, but Zoh remembered Merse’s warning, and so they smiled and bowed their head to the crowd and promised to come back in a week’s time to play again. Over the next week, Zoh made sure to be careful with the amount they played, waiting until there was no one in the house to practice more songs.

The next time Zoh came to the pub with the lute, the crowd was much bigger than it had been before. Equally thrilled and nervous, Zoh stepped onto the stage. The people in the pub clapped and cheered, ready for another round of splendid music. And Zoh gave it to them, the whoops and shouts and applause filling them with the greatest joy they’d ever known. For once, people loved them as much, if not more than, the rest of their family.

Week after week, Zoh came to the pub to play for the people of the town. And week after week, the crowd grew until the pub was so full of people that everyone was forced to go outside. People started coming up to Zoh in the streets, begging them to play, but they always left the lute at home. And so people started showing up at their house, outside their window, pleading, wanting to hear more of the beautiful music. Men and women threw themselves at Zoh, wanting to go to bed with them and have them play after. And Zoh loved all the attention.

It became easier and easier to forget Merse’s warning. The weekly performances became every few days, then every other, and then every night. And each time Zoh played longer and longer, reveling in the devotion of the people who so desperately loved their music.

And then one day, as Merse had warned, it all became too much. The crowd, now taking up the entire town square, was driven to madness with the love they felt for Zoh and their music. They wanted to crawl inside Zoh, to understand where such beauty came from, to get a little piece of that themselves. And in their frenzy, their desire to show their love and devotion, they tore Zoh apart, grabbing and shredding their clothes, snatching and tearing out their hair. Zoh screamed for help, for them to stop, but the rabid crowd were deaf to Zoh’s cries, even as the screams pitched, followed by the sickening sound of flesh tearing. By the time the chaos ended, the lute had vanished, sent back to Merse, who hoped the next player would hear of this tragedy and better heed her warning.

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