MY MUSIC WAS MY LIFE, MY LIFE MY MUSIC
The old forest knew Niklas. He would come wandering along the shadowed paths playing his nut-brown fiddle, and the leaves on the trees would dance for the joy of his music. The stags would come to the edge of the path to watch him go by, and the rabbits played leapfrog to his rhythms in the long grass of the clearings. Birds knew his tunes, and would sing along. Music always followed in Niklas’s wake. He lived for the music, and the music came tremblingly alive for him, pouring from under his bow, wrapping the frets of his violin, making the forest laugh and lilt.
The fiddle had been a gift from his grandmother for Niklas’s thirteenth birthday. The two of them lived alone in a cottage deep in the woods, and Niklas had never seen either his father or his mother. Grandmother would say nothing about the gift except that it had always belonged to the family, and was very old – and that it had been left for him to have when the time came. And it seemed to be a magic fiddle, because it seemed to teach Niklas how to play it, guided his fingers to play the right notes. The first time he held it in his hands he could play any tune he wanted. It was as though playing the fiddle was something he had always know how to do, and had merely remembered something that he had forgotten. And so taken was he by his gift that he did not see his grandmother weep when she saw what had happened, and did not ask her why she was crying.
Niklas had been admonished not to leave the forest where he lived. Once he had asked his grandmother, when he was still very young, if the forest covered the whole world. She could have told him then that it did. But she had sighed, and sat him down, and explained that there was a whole wide world outside of the forest. That had been only the first time that she had told him that he must never enter it. There had never come another day when she did not repeat those words to Niklas. And, because he was happy, he did not wish to disobey her. The world held no call for him. He was happy to roam his forest home with his fiddle. The beasts all knew him and came to him if he called to them, and he could make the tiny wild flowers in the clearings sway to his music like graceful little dancers. He could make the nightingales sing for him. He was king of his kingdom. He was happy.
One day he was sitting on the low bough of a favourite oak tree and playing his fiddle when he heard an unfamiliar sound. He stopped playing to listen and soon the noise grew closer. Along the path that meandered beneath his swinging feet a procession of riders came slowly, weaving their way through the woods. There was an expression of fear on the lead rider’s face, and he kept making strange signals with his hand, as though warding away evil spells. Behind him, on a milk-white palfrey, rode the most beautiful girl Niklas had ever seen. She had long golden hair that streamed like sunshine down her shoulders, and she had the eyes of a fawn. She didn’t seem as afraid as her escort, because she was smiling as she looked around her, and she was humming a tune, very softly, under her breath. Niklas listened intently for a moment, and then, carried away with the girl’s beauty, his fiddle seemed to leap into his hands and he played an echo of the tune she was humming. Instantly the cavalcade came to a milling halt beneath him, and scared voices were raised in raucous query. She alone, the girl, looked immediately up to where he was sitting, and smiled.
“Why, hello,” she said. “That was well played. What are you doing here all alone?”
“Playing the fiddle,” said Niklas.
“Come down! Come down here at once! Are you alone? Where are your parents?” chattered the lead rider, quite pale, but recovering. “Where did you come from, anyway? What is a youngster like you doing in the Enchanted Forest on his own? Who sent you here?”
“I live here,” said Niklas, “with my grandmother.”
“But nobody lives here,” said the girl reasonably. “This is the Enchanted Forest.”
“I do, I live here. Where are you from? Where are you going? I have never seen anyone pass this way before.”
“I am…” she began, but the lead rider leaned over to clutch at her arm.
“Princess!” he remonstrated urgently.
“He is only a child, Ilon!” she said, shaking him off. “I am Princess Briagha. I come from my father’s house, to marry Prince Balach. I go to my wedding, forest boy.”
Niklas laughed, and played a snatch of a happy tune on his fiddle. “Luck to you, then!” he said, and laughed again. He played faster and faster, and soon the fear on everyone’s faces began to melt as the smiles came. The princess clapped her hands in time to his music and laughed joyously, and even dour Ilon was surprised into a smile. When Niklas stopped, breathless, Princess Briagha held out her hands to him.
“Oh, please come and play at my wedding, forest boy! You make such happy music, and I know that my betrothed will welcome you, as I do!”
Niklas laughed out loud and leapt down from his perch on the tree. Such was his joy at having been asked by this beautiful girl to play his music at her wedding feast that he quite forgot his grandmother’s constant words of warning.
“You can ride behind Ban,” said Princess Briagha, and a handsome young man swept off his plumed hat and laughed down at Niklas. The knight leaned down from his mount and helped Niklas clamber up behind him, his fiddle tucked between them. Then Ilon gave the signal and they moved off. The Princess rode beside Ban and Niklas, and talked happily about her wedding; Niklas listened avidly and it was only when he felt the sunshine hot on his bare head that he turned and saw the edge of the Enchanted Forest being relentlessly left behind him. For an instant his grandmother’s voice came to him, and her words about the forest returned to touch his mind. He shivered where he sat with a sense of doom, knowing, for just an instant, that he had done something irrevocable. But then Briagha’s lilting laugh drew him back, and he turned his back on the forest. Somewhere far ahead he thought he could see a castle of many turrets, each flying a white pennant to welcome the new bride. And soon he would be playing at a Royal wedding.
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