Like The Prose Day 29

Some of you may remember that on Day 9, I wrote a piece in which fictional critics discussed a medieval poem known as ‘The Song of Pardal and Enara’, some of them quoting the poem in its original old English and some in modern translation. We were able to glean some of the story from the comments they made, but today’s piece returns to the two young lovers and retells the story from Pardal’s perspective as he languishes in a cell and reflects on his love for Enara and the unlikelihood of the two of them surviving.

Lovebirds – Pardal and Enara’s Story

            Her beautiful voice – as golden as the hair that ripples down her back – is the last thing he hears.

*

He comes to in a cramped, dingy cell, not much bigger than himself. If he stretches out, his arms hit the wall on both sides before fully extended. He’ll have to sleep curled round, like a dog or cat. His jaw aches. He touches it tenderly, realising that the guards must have hit him time and time again before they dragged him in here. Casting his mind back to the last minutes he remembers, he tries to focus on what has brought him here. How has his life been turned upside down in such a short space of time?

They had both grown up in the same village, sweethearts from the time they could toddle. He can still see her now, only five or six summers old, sitting in the meadow surrounded by daisies. She’d shown him how to thread the yellow and white flowers into a delicate chain and he’d placed it on her head, declaring her his queen. Back then, they hadn’t envisaged anything would ever separate them, but that was when the old king was still alive – before Petyr Ironfist came to the throne.

As his eyes gradually adjust to the gloom, he becomes aware of a small, barred window in one side of the cell. He shuffles towards it, hoping for fresh air. Pressing himself against the cold, metal bars, he takes deep breaths, trying to replace the mustiness of this confined space with something that reminds him of the outside world. And that’s when he hears her.

Her voice floats gently on the breeze, every note as pure and true as a lark. She’s a prisoner too, then: he doesn’t know whether to feel relief or sorrow.

Minutes pass before he’s able to conjure up the strength to communicate with her. “My love? Are you there?”

But his words are as cracked as his ribs and he can only croak his love for her.

“Pardal? Is that you?”

She uses the old nickname, calling him her sparrow, and he responds in kind.

“Enara – my swallow. Have they hurt you?”

He closes his eyes, attempting to see the last minutes in her presence: the two of them standing before the king: he, accused of treason; her only crime to refuse to marry a man she does not love. Her golden voice as she breathes the word ‘No’ is the last thing he hears before an iron fist slams into his face and he crumples to the floor.

Back in the present, he waits anxiously for her response. “His guards have not touched me.” Her voice trembles as she continues. “But he told me that every day I refuse him, he will torture you a little more.”

They could execute him a thousand times over and burn him alive, but that would not be as painful as the thought of living without her.

“Stay strong, my little one,” he tells her.

The king may have caged them both, but he cannot eradicate their love for each other.

*

As hours drag into days and days blur into one another, he finds his mind returning again and again to the happiness they’d known in their village. She was thirteen summers when he’d kissed her for the first time and her lips had been as sweet as cherries. Harvest time came and went, but still he did not have the courage to ask her father if he might court her properly. Instead, they stole away as often as they could, spending innocent hours together, his head in her lap whilst she threaded daisies into a crown for him. He was still a boy; but if he could become apprenticed to the village bard, he would have a trade to offer her father, a way of showing he could provide for a family. From time to time, he longed to kiss her again; but he was too mindful of her virtue to despoil her innocence before they were handfasted.

Now he wonders if he will ever kiss her again.

*

He finds it hard to sleep, his body contorted into uncomfortable shapes by the smallness of the cell, and wonders if she too faces the same difficulty. Her body is smaller than his: lighter, more delicate. When sleep eludes him totally, he imagines that she is lying next to him and that he can hear her breathing. He does not know how many days they have been without one another, only that he feels her loss as keenly as if he had lost a hand or a foot.

Time crawls on. Every day, he is beaten by at least one of the guards and he knows the king hopes his tortured cries will sway Enara to reconsider her refusal. Despite the ache in his gut, the burning pain in his side, he does not cry out: he must stay strong for her sake. But lack of food and sleep is taking its toll: he can feel his body wasting away from lack of sustenance: it will not be long now before the king has no rival for the songbird’s love. He sifts the memories of their last few days together – the precious hours spent walking hand in hand through fields of cornflowers and poppies; and then, sweetest of all, their wedding day when she’d pledged her love for him in front of the village only minutes before the king’s men arrived to carry her away. She is his bride, yet he has still not known her: if the guards had not arrived, he would have carried her to his bed and made her his forever; but it was not to be.

They still communicate – sometimes in speech; sometimes in song. At first, he sings the ballads he sang whilst courting her, and she joins in the refrain – “He lost the girl with the golden hair, with the eyes of blue and the skin so fair. He lost the girl with the golden hair to the king, to the king of the fairies.” – but the emotions are too raw and the words too close for comfort.

As his body debilitates, he begins to urge her to reconsider her vows to him. “Marry the king and save yourself,” he says; but she remains true to him, even though he hears the tears in her whispered refusal.

In his weakened state, his body loses all track of time: past and present merge into each other so that one minute he is a child again, running through meadows with his playmate, and he is then a man, running behind the soldiers as they gallop off with his bride. He is an apprentice bard, learning the notes of the lute as he accompanies his master and they sing of battles and honour; and he is a desperate husband, sneaking into the castle, trying to find his love before it is too late. His own wedding blurs into the one he prevented, the smiles on his friends’ faces replaced with the fury of the king as Pardal steps forward before the crowd of people and declares that Enara has already pledged herself to him.

He wonders from time to time why Petyr did not simply kill him there and then – a sword thrust from any one of the guards present would have dispatched him instantly; and then he thinks of Enara’s tear-stained face and knows that the king is punishing her by keeping her lover alive yet out of reach. They are merely flies to him: he is plucking their wings off slowly to prolong the agony.

*

By now, he is a shadow of his former self: his limbs are withered and his ribs bruised from constant kicking; his chest rattles with the effort of breathing. Nevertheless, he still calls to her from his barred window. “My swallow …”

“Were I truly a swallow, I would take flight and soar through these bars, to you, my sparrow.”

But her voice is so faint that it catches on the wind and disappears.

He begs her again to reconsider her refusal.

“Without seeing you, I know you are wasting away, my swallow.”

Her reply breaks his heart: “Were I a swallow, I’d have no cause to die.”

Her only sin was being too beautiful; his only crime was falling in love with her.

“My swallow; my wife.”

But this time, she does not answer.

Faint from hunger and exhaustion, he slumps to the floor, never taking his eyes off the bars at the window. Moments later, there is a flurry of wings as a swallow and a sparrow soar upwards, rejoicing in their freedom.

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