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The Music of Love
By Tala Bar
He was a young prince who grew up in comfort and luxury and was nurtured on learning and beauty. He was handsome enough, with warm brown eyes and hair, and he looked favorably at the world around him. How was he to know anything about life?
One day he sat in the meadow near his father's palace, trying to make his lyre produce some music his mentor was attempting to teach him. It was not going very well, and he laid the instrument by his side with some disgust and looked around him; Argos, his dog and constant companion, looked at him with disapproval.
It was spring time, and the green meadow was covered with a motley of flowers. There was nothing new in this sight itself, but today something was happening on the meadow. A woman was dancing among the blossoms, and the prince thought he had never seen such a beautiful sight in his life. Her bare feet hardly touched the ground and she seemed to be floating with the light wind that was blowing. A flower garland encircled her golden hair which shimmered in the bright sun, flying off her head and revealing a very pretty face with shining blue eyes. She wore a transparent, rosy garment that made her look like one of the flowers on the meadow.
Unaware of what he was doing, the prince picked up the lyre he had laid down, held it right and hit the strings. A new music emerged he had never known before. His hand glided easily on the strings as he played to the girl's dance.
The girl seemed to have heard the new sound, as she made changes in her dance in accord with the music. She twisted and twirled, moved her arms and worked with her legs. Her bare feet caressed the blossoms with their light touch. As she turned her head here and there, her hair flew like a golden stream. In her dance, she now came closer and closer to the player. His eyes followed her every movement and his fingers flew over the strings as if by themselves.
At last, the dancer was so close to the musician that instead of dancing in front of him, she began dancing around him. He could barely follow her with his eyes now so he closed them, as if seeing her in his mind's eye. The music and the dance merged together, getting swifter and swifter, turning to sound more like the beat of a drum than the flow of a tune, until nothing was left of the music but a series of strong beats. Suddenly, they stopped, and the girl fell at the prince's feet with her head and half her body lying in his lap.
He opened his eyes to look at her face that was turned up toward his own. Both of them gasped for breath. Slowly, breathing more calmly, the dancer moved, her motions flowing and graceful. She sat up across from him and looked at him with a half-smile.
"Well," she said, "You are some musician, I must say."
"It's your dance that did it," he replied; "I wouldn't be able to play without it."
"Is that so?" she said, not denying his statement. "And what do they call you in these parts?"
"I am the prince," he said.
"Certainly a prince of music," she affirmed.
"You can call me Thea."
"Thea…" he tasted the word. "You might be the Goddess of Dance," he said.
What followed was the inconsequential talk of lovers, which they had quickly become. All through that spring, the prince and Thea met on the meadow. During the day he played the lyre and she danced, and at night they made love with the heat of spring and youth.
Day by day the prince's music grew better and livelier; so much so that it made not only Thea dance but also the trees that stood throughout the meadow, and the little animals and birds that frequented it. The flowers regarded Thea as one of them, as they danced with her every time the music played. Even the few rocks jutting sparsely around the meadow added their heavy stump to the beat. Argos, the prince's faithful dog, also took part in those festivities of love, often dancing around Thea and barking in joy.
When summer came, as the flowers withered in the heat and the ripe fruit hung on the trees, the lovers' heat assuaged, and they tended to spend their time together with more walking and talking, hugging affectionately as their lovemaking lengthened and flowed like a wide river. The prince's music, then, became more languid and thoughtful. Thea changed her dance into slower, wider movements. During that hot period, their meetings were occasionally interrupted by short, sweet rain showers, causing them to run and play through them like children. Life was happy, and time seemed to last forever.
Seasons turn, and at last the sky lost its blue sheen behind heavy clouds. The air chilled after the heat of summer, and the occasional sweet showers turned into heavy rains. Too often they had to seek shelter, and their lovemaking was not the continuous pleasure it had been before. The leaves on the trees around the meadow changed their color and began falling off, and Thea became restless.
"What is it with you?" The prince asked one night, when for the first time since they had met she rejected his advances for lovemaking.
"I'll have to go soon," she said softly, caressing his head with her long, gentle fingers.
"Go where?" he asked in astonishment. He had never asked her about herself.
Although she knew he was the son of the king and queen, he had never taken her to meet his parents and she had not asked that of him. Even now, it did not disturb him that he had not known where she had come from and who were her people; as if he was only interested in her in relation to himself. Now, all of a sudden, he began to realize she had a life somewhere separate from himself.
"Every autumn I go to visit my elder sister," she said.
"And you can't break that custom, even for us?" he asked. His heart was disturbed and he found it hard to keep calm. "Can I come with you?" he asked.
She gave him a sideway look, her eyes deep with some enigmatic emotions. "I don't think you'd like it there, where my sister lives," she replied, quietly.
The next morning she was gone, leaving behind her a word scribbled in the soil, "Follow!"
"Follow? How can I do that?" he asked Argos, his faithful dog, who raised his head with questioning eyes. For some moments they sat together, bound by the same sad sense of loss. The prince took out the lyre and his fingers cascaded on the strings in a minor key for the first time ever, emitting a sorrowful, yearning song as he had never done before.
"We'll have to follow, my friend," he told his dog, "if we want our beloved back. I suppose that's what you're here for, Argos. You can use your sense of smell to follow Thea's tracks."
The dog sniffed the ground until he found the girl's scent, and the two bereaved creatures started on their way.
There was a trail of fallen leaves that Argos followed, red and yellow and brown, away from any trees, but the Prince did not notice them in his sorrow. As they walked forward, he kept playing the lyre, but no one danced to his song that was full of yearning and depression. The trees only swayed their branches and the live creatures around them nodded their heads to the music.
The path led them down a valley, that went deeper and deeper to become a narrow gully, and above them the sky became darker and darker. No trees grew in the gully, and there were no animals. Only a smattering of birds flew over the very narrow gully, calling out to the prince, "Stop! You don't know where you're going! It's dangerous down there and you might never come out!"
But he did not listen, continuing to play his gloomy song. The slopes became very steep on both sides, getting nearer and nearer to each other. Gradually, the sky vanished, as the slopes on both sides of the gully merged above their heads, creating a narrow tunnel around them. It became so dark that the Prince stopped walking and playing and looked round him as if waking up from a dream.
"Argos!" he cried out, "Do you know where we are? Are you sure we are walking in the right direction?"
The dog stopped for a moment, looked at his master and barked an ascent, then turned and continued on his way. At that moment, a swarm of fireflies filled the dark tunnel, emitting a faint light that made their way a little more visible. The prince felt a momentary relief, until he noticed that they were not alone. Other creatures inhabited the tunnel, less innocuous than themselves. These creatures seemed to stay along the tunnel's walls, and the prince was able to see them only as shadows.
The noise these beasts created, though, was so loud that he could not hear his own music. He stopped playing, and hung the lyre over his shoulder in disgust. But as he paid more attention to the noise, his heart filled with fear. He could now hear those creatures growling and roaring, screeching and gnashing their teeth.
In the midst of all the commotion, the prince was able to discern the words: "It's your doom down there, prince!”
He felt so much terror that he paused in his walking and called up to Argos, who had gone ahead without paying much attention. The dog came up to his master with his head down, whining softly. He rubbed his body against the prince's legs.
"What'd you think, should we go on or back?" the prince asked quietly.
He got neither reassurance nor encouragement from the dog. Thea's image had dimmed in this darkness and among the fearsome noise, and he wavered. Then he thought of their passionate gaiety at springtime, and their calm happiness in summer, and knew he would not be able to live his life as it had been before he had met her if he did not at least attempt to see her again.
Clenching his teeth, the prince signed to Argos to continue on his way. The path became much harder now, full of pits and obstacles, and they stumbled on every step. The beasts also became more fierce and daring, occasionally jumping at them and trying to bite their bodies and limbs – sometimes even succeeding. The prince, now all his attention focused on the path in front of him, forgot his goal in his effort to survive. The path seemed to last forever.
The end of the tunnel came abruptly, opening into a great underground hall; the cavern was so big that the prince was unable to see its boundaries. The wanderers stopped, and the man looked around him. It was much less dark here, as torches hung around, though he was unable to see their stands or the walls they hung on.
In their light he could see more clearly the threatening beasts filling the hall. They looked indeed very menacing with their monstrous bodies, sharp teeth and enormous claws. This time, however, they sat quietly, as if under some orders to behave. Was their purpose in the tunnel to keep him away, or else to test his courage and determination to reach his goal? For the first time in his life the prince was having such thoughts that examined his own behavior.
He then saw stronger light on one side of the hall that emanated from a bunch of torches grouped together. In the midst of that light stood a throne-like chair that seemed to be made of black stone. He drew nearer, as it seemed the proper thing to do in this situation. Then he saw sitting on the throne the ugliest person he had ever seen.
It looked like a woman, with long black hair and deep black eyes, her features drowned in a mesh of wrinkles. She wore a long black garment with some silver threads and a silver diadem on her head, set with black onyx stones that looked as watchful as her black eyes. Her hands were as wrinkled as her face and her fingers looked like claws, and she wore silver sandals on crooked feet that showed under her long skirt.
She sat like the stone her chair was made of, and the prince's heart was filled with dread as he looked at her. After an eon she moved, making a beckoning movement with a crooked hand. He felt himself drawing toward her against his very will, until he stood right before the throne. His limbs were shaking and, in the hush that fell in the hall, he could hear his own teeth chattering.
"Prince," she spoke, her voice a grating hoarse. His shaking stopped suddenly, as if he knew his doom had come and there was nothing he could do. "What are you doing here?"
"I don't know," he replied as if driven by some force outside himself. Then he mastered what was left of his courage and said, almost brazenly, "I was looking for my lover. We followed her scent to this place but I don't know if she could be here." Looking round him again, he implied how unlikely it was to find Thea in such a place.
"And who is your lover?" the person asked in her terrible voice.
"She is called Thea, but I know nothing more about her, except that we love each other and that I could not live without her."
"Ah!" the creature said. Then she added, "I could tell you where this Thea is if I wanted, as she is my sister."
"Yes, she told me so, but who are you and what are you called?"
"I am Hella, didn't she say my name? But I can't tell you where she is unless you play for me and for my creatures." With that, she made a sweeping movement with her arm to include all the hall's inhabitants, and a great noise escaped from them that filled the cavern with roaring and growling and stumping and even what sounded like the laughter of a hyena.
The Prince's heart filled again with terror, and he said in a shaking voice, "How could I play and sing in such a threatening atmosphere?"
"Don't worry, we'll be quiet when we hear your music. But you have to play now, or I can't answer for your safety."
With shaking hands the Prince took the lyre off his shoulder, and hit the strings. He started his song with some hesitation, as silence fell around the hall. Suddenly, Thea's image appeared before his mind's eye, as he saw her for the first time. At that sight, he soon mastered his music and became absorbed in it as before. He began singing of the terror he felt at his experience in the tunnel and the underground hall; gradually, his song softened, expressing the sadness, yearning and depression that he felt when he was following Thea to what he thought might be the place she had gone to.
At that moment he happened to look up at Hella, and sensed some change in her appearance. There seemed to be a gradual softening of the wrinkles in her face, hands and feet, and her black hair turned dark brown.
The prince's song, then, went back in time even further, turning into the summertime calmness of his and Thea's love. Looking now more intently at the person on the throne, he saw her turn into a woman in her prime of life. Her hair glowed dark red and her eyes warm brown; her body looked like the mature body of a mother and her dress turned deep red with golden thread instead of silver. The diadem turned a golden crown on her head, as did the sandals on her now shapely feet, with the stones becoming twinkling rubies.
Then the song became gayer and gayer, as the prince remembered meeting Thea and the beginning of their love. He was no longer astonished as he saw Hella turn right before his eyes into a young girl with golden hair and blue eyes, her dress a transparent rosy shift, her feet bare and the crown on her head made of springtime flowers.
"Thea!" he called out. The lyre dropped from his hands and he rushed to hold her form as she came down from the throne.
The music stopped, as Thea and the prince were making love for the last time, and Hella's warning was fulfilled. In the silence that fell in the hall, her fearsome beasts fell on the musician and tore his body to pieces, and his last music expressed the pain and suffering of death.
But the wind picked up the prince's song and carried it out into the world. It became known everywhere that the song of love had all the kinds of music in it: the gay passion of spring and lovemaking; the calm solemnity and affection of summer; the sadness and yearnings of separation in autumn; the pain of loss and the agony of death in winter.
And the prince, who was the first ever to compose such music of love, became known everywhere by the name of Orpheus.
Tala Bar is a writer and artist who lives in Israel. Tala studied Hebrew and English languages and literature and holds a Master of Philosophy degree in literature from London University.