DISCLAIMER: Bad Girls and all its characters are property of Shed Productions. The author implies no ownership of these characters, and they are used in the stories without permission solely for entertainment and not for profit.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
"You play well; I've not heard any woman play harp music half as sweet. Not outside of Ireland, anyway, that is." He had sat down opposite to me as he spoke, placing a glass and a bottle in front of himself. I smiled, unsure if I wanted him to go away or to pay me another compliment on my playing of the harp. He didn't speak again; his full concentration devoted to pouring the stout he'd bought from bottle to glass. I couldn't help but feel a bit put out at having a complete stranger sit down with me, and I suppose that's what brought me out firing with sarcasm.
"Surely, even if we allow that Ireland produces the best harpists, which I don't, then they'd play just as well here in London or in Timbuktu for that matter."
After a moment, to ensure that the very last drop of beer was in his glass, he looked up to reply. "Now that's where you are wrong, Miss Wade, and I'd have thought you'd understand this, being a musician. You can have the soul to make music speak, and it'll never speak so clear as when you're in your home country or town."
"I suppose that can be true for some musicians, but not for me."
"Now I'm biased, being born and bread in Dalkey, which is south of Dublin if you don't know, but if you think you'd be the equal to any Irish harpist, playing in an Irish town "
I didn't want to encourage this stranger, but I felt the need to defend my playing ability. "Yes, I do."
"Then I will put a thousand pounds on the table to say you would not, and you can name your jury." For a moment, it occurred to me that he might be trying to con me into taking some elaborate bet, which I would inevitably lose. I was going to tell him I wasn't quite as stupid as he thought, but after a swallow of beer he went on. "Do you know where the oldest harp in the world is?"
"I think there were some taken from the Egyptian tombs."
"I meant a Gaelic harp." He said as he rolled his eyes at me; as if I had spoken blaspheme.
"There is a famous one at Trinity College; from the fifteenth century, I think."
"Wrong by the best part of a thousand years," he said with a glint in his eye. "The oldest Gaelic harp is the one made by the King of Connaught, for his bard, Seanchan. Who, at the time, was the chief poet of Ireland."
"And this harp still exists? What condition is it in?"
"As good as the day it was made, my bonny lass. As good as the day she was made."
"Kinvara, where it has always been; it is in a crypt beneath St Coman's church. I'll give you the full story, if you'll keep my glass full." He said pointing to his now empty glass.
I'd been expecting something of the sort, but it seemed a fair exchange, even if what he was saying clearly needed to be taken with a large pinch of salt. At the bar, I secured four bottles of the stout he was drinking and lined them up on our table, which put a grin on his face. I'd had my own glass filled and sat down to listen, telling myself that there were worse ways I could be passing the rest of the evening until my lift arrived.
"Firstly, you need to know the character Seanchan. He was a jealous man. It wasn't enough that he was chief poet; he needed everyone to know it, and to prove it over and over again. For that reason, every three years he would call an Eisteddfod, to show that nobody was the best besides him. So it went on, until one year a girl arrived to compete. Nobody knew where from, or who her folk were. Eilidh, her name was."
He took a long drink from his now replenished glass of stout.
"Yes, that's Gaelic for Helen, if you didn't know."
"It's a beautiful name."
"That it is, as was Eilidh. Her hair was as pale as the white foam of the sea and her beauty as delicate and as fresh as the rain."
"And boy, could she play. Since it was a competition, Seanchan dictated everyone that played the harp should play his harp. That way, the music was coming from the same instrument." The stranger stopped talking again to take a drink from his glass of stout.
"Well it wasn't just any harp."
"Why was that then?"
"It was strung with silver strings. Anyway, she played that well, that she moved the King to tears. Even Seanchan was moved. No man at the Eisteddfod could resist the sounds that she evoked from that harp. When she had finished playing, she spoke to no one."
"Now, as legend has it, the instrument had been bewitched by her. Well, either that or she had bewitched the King and his nobles. Because King Simon and all the other judges said she was the better player, she took the prize: the purse of gold that Seanchan had put up, because he thought he would never be beaten."
"Serves the arrogant prick right." I said.
"Yes, well as you can imagine, Seanchan would, and was very angry. He flew into a rage, and was spitting curses; then he finally took off, swearing that if they preferred her music then they could have it. And he also vowed to only return when she was gone."
"Good; with him out of the picture, Eilidh can play some beautiful music."
"You would think so, wouldn't you?"
"Why, what happened?" Much to my irritation, this man took this opportunity to take a break from talking and consume more of his stout.
When he had finished he sat forward and lent across the table as though what he was about to tell me was a secret. "Well you would think having this beautiful woman to play the harp for you would be a great improvement over the miserable Seanchan. But not everyone there thought that way. Turns out that Seanchan had at least one fan. Turns out, the local witch, Miach, had a soft spot for our poet."
"Not only that. She was none too happy with the attention that Eilidh was receiving from the men folk: she was the one who usually received the attention of the King and his noble man."
"Not only the town witch, but the town slut as well? Not a good combination."
"No. And during the first night that Eilidh was in the castle, Miach put a great curse on Eilidh. And the next morning, when the King and Noblemen rose, Eilidh was nowhere to be found."
"What happened to her?"
"Nobody really knows. But I can tell you this; where the pillar of the harp had previously been a plain curved stone, it was now fashioned in the form of a young woman."
"Is that why the pillars of a harp are sometime fashioned in the shape of a woman?"
"Maybe. The local priest took the harp and entombed it in the crypt below his church, because of the fact that it had been bewitched. And that is where it remains still today, until someone comes along and plays the harp better than she did. Well, that's what the legend is anyway. Whether you believe it or not is a different matter."
Just then, a man entered the room, wearing what appeared to be a chauffeurs uniform: my lift had arrived. "Thank you for the wonderful story."
"Hang on, I haven't finished."
"I'm sorry; my ride is here." I picked up my belongings and left the story teller to the rest of his Stout.
Over the next couple of years, I often thought of my conversation with the elderly gentlemen in that dark music bar. At first, it was about the fact that he was right about familiar surroundings, and an appreciative audience making it easier to play. But I was still not willing to say that being Irish or Celtic made anyone a better harpist. Mind you, he wasn't the first person to have this opinion; I had heard it said several times at different rehearsals. And it was always stated so condescendingly, as though it was inevitable that I would never be the best. That I just had to accept my lot in life: One, because of where I was born; and two, because of my family's blood line. That only made me want to prove them wrong. I read every bit of musical literature I could get my hands on. I practiced for as long as my bleeding hands would allow me to. And I even purchased a handmade harp. It was carved from a single piece of willow; I even had brass strings put in it. Silver was too expensive. Because of this, I felt driven to try my hand in Ireland. But at the same time I daren't not, for fear that maybe all the critics were right all along. That was until I was placed third at Builth Wells. The woman that won was beautiful as well, she reminded me again of the story I had been told. That night I decided to go.
My Irish debut was at the Ormond Hotel in Dublin - two days before Bloomsday. So the place was packed with tourists, mainly Americans. They made up over half of the audience; my playing had never been so appreciated. There was no prize on offer that night, but it lifted my spirits and gave me the confidence to think I may succeed in the one place where I had always been told I never would: Ireland.
I went to Galway City with the rain pouring down from the heavens. But when I woke up in the morning, it had left the air all fresh and clean. My hotel was right on the promenade. My room looked out over the sea. Only then did I understand what that old man had meant about one's soul being attached to the land of our origin. But again, this made me more determined to prove them all wrong. And that night I did: I came first.
I had a restless sleep that night. I kept going through the music I had played, and the music that had been played by the other musicians. And when I woke, I could still hear the music being played. I knew I was close to Kinvara and, more importantly; Eilidh. So I decided to follow the music and go to see the harp that I had been told about so many years ago.
I arrived in the middle of the afternoon, and decided not only to get directions from the local pub, but that I would have a late lunch there also, and a few beers wouldn't go astray either. After lunch, and my second beer, I followed the directions that had been given to me by the bartender. As I approached the church, I again started hearing music. But it was not music that I recognized. I shook my head in disbelief and the music stopped. I looked at the church I had been dreaming about for the past three years.
Nobody, including the bartender, had told me it was in ruins. Only three stone walls stood upright, covered in ivy and moss. Tumbled blocks were also in the nave. But I could still hear music in my head. Never had I known such a magical place. It conjured up imagined images of the past: of the King, Seanchan and of course, Eilidh. The music was like nothing I had ever heard before, but I was sure it was only in my subconscious mind. It was ancient music; not chords, but drones, alternating drones, that's what it was. How long I had stood there listening to this music flowing in my head I don't know, but before I knew it, the sky had darkened and night had nearly fallen. The shadows that had been created by the still standing walls had moved from their positions on the ground. Leaving what appeared to be an opening in the ground. Immediately I remembered the crypt and moved forward to find a recent fall had unblocked the opening to a spiral staircase.
How could I not investigate?
Slowly, I made my way down the darkened stairway. Once I was in the crypt, it took several minutes for my sight to adjust to the dim light. When it did, I could make it out: Seanchan's harp. The sound box and neck, the strings and the pillar. The pillar Eilidh. I had to see her.
There on the floor, next to the harp, were several candles. I took out my cigarette lighter and lit one. Raising it up to the pillar, I took in the naked form of Eilidh. She was tiny, only a little taller than a well-grown child, but clearly a woman. Her lithe, delicate body, completely naked, with the soft feminine swell of her breasts and belly and thighs, captured in exquisite detail, while her face expressed beauty and pain. I could have stared at her forever, but although she was made of stone, to touch her seamed as though it would have been the grossest of intrusions.
At last, I managed to tear my eyes away from her to investigate the harp. It was definitely ancient. The design was simple; 22 strings, as would be expected. They were silver, as the old man had said. This, being fact, had left them intact. Blackened by time, but still taut and in their place.
I so longed to play this instrument, I could not simple walk away from it. But for me to do that, I would have to touch Eilidh. No, I would have to take her naked body in an embrace. With the look on her face, of both pain and longing, the thought made me feel guilty. For several minutes I hesitated, trying to tell myself that she was just stone and that I was being stupid. But I was unable to shake the feeling that I was taking an unpardonable liberty. Then I saw I was not the first to take such liberties with Eilidh. There on the floor in front of her, stood a large square block of stone.
With that, my conscious became more settled; if she had been held before by others then I could also hold her. I sat down on the large stone block, in front of Eilidh. But before I could touch her, I had to speak to her.
"I'm sorry, Eilidh, but I must do this. Please understand; this is for the sake of the music."
I moved closer to her, pulling myself towards the harp, until my hands could reach the full width of the harp; leaving her pointed breasts pushed hard against my breasts and her smooth belly pressed against mine. Her face was close to mine; it was against my neck, as though she was nuzzling me, her stone lips touching my bare skin.
The strings on the harp were tight, as if they had only been strung that morning. The first note which I played was a plaintive one, strangely resonating in the stone sound box. But in perfect tune to the music running through my head. I began to play, my eyes tightly closed.
Tentatively at first, but before long, the music in my head was coursing through my body and coming out, through my fingers and into the harp. Sad, but sweet music: music that hadn't been heard for centuries. From the moment I started playing, I was lost; it felt as though Eilidh was directing me, helping me to play this music. Because I didn't even know it from my own memory. I became oblivious to everything, everything except the feel of the strings and Eilidh's stone body against my flesh. It was now as if she was playing with me, somehow making the strings move. It was true: the curve of her back and the thrust of her chest had kept these strings taut for all these centuries. I began to imagine her as real; held in my arms as I played, her lips pressed to my neck and her breasts to mine. Seduced by the beauty of the music.
With that thought, I realized that would never be; not only was she made of stone, but she had been with men. So I changed my style of music. Adding modern nuances, chords and harmonies, which seemed to flow from my fingers with great ease. My confidence grew. I changed the mood from sleep to joy. But as I did, I was sure that I felt her lips move against my skin; a little brush like the most timid of kisses, yielding yet unsure. I closed my eyes tighter, lost in a dream of the beautiful Eilidh; making love to me as I played, her body now warm and willing against mine, unable to resist my music as I drew her from cold stone to vital flesh.
The joy of my playing grew greater still as she pressed against me, her breasts now firm yet yielding. Her nipples were hard, and she was evidently in full arousal. I felt her arms come free, wrapping around my neck as her kisses grew hot and eager. Her teeth were nipping at my skin in growing abandonment. Her legs came forward too: first pressing softly to my thigh; then higher, wrapping around my back to bring her body onto my lap, with the heat of her sex directly against my own.
She was finally mine: enslaved to my music, unable to hold back the needs of her body. I responded to her kisses, allowing my mouth to find her neck and further down, to the twin mounds of her breasts. I sucked on her nipples, making her sigh and shiver against me. She began to speak; her words unintelligible, save for an echo of what I'd heard spoken in Wales and Ireland. Yet its meaning was clear enough.
I never stopped once, playing as I never have before; with ever rising passion and at ever greater pace. With every note, she grew more eager. Her hands now firmly on my breasts, while her mouth sought out mine. I felt one of her hands leave my breast and make its way down to the fastener of my pants. She quickly opened them and placed her hand on top of my underwear. She could feel my wetness, and started moaning into my mouth in appreciation.
I had to hold her, to feel that silky smooth skin under my fingers and the softness of her body. Yet I feared my dream would dissolve in the instant it would take for me to stop playing. It was only a fear and a dream for a matter of seconds, until she herself reached out to pull my hand to her back. With that, I gave in; abandoning myself to the pleasure of her body. My hands went beneath her, to cup her perfect bottom. The spread of my fingers easily encompassed her. She clung tighter still, wriggling against me and biting at my mouth as we kissed with ever rising passion.
Yet the music never stopped: not in my head. It was surging around us, ever faster and more joyous as we made love. She had been the one unable to resist; climbing onto me and taking my body into hers because she could not do otherwise. But now it was me. My lust was too powerful to be held back; I took her there on the dank stone floor, rolling her onto her back I climbed on top of her and eagerly placed two fingers into her extremely wet centre. Then, and only then, do I allow myself to open my eyes.
She was real, more than real. She was Eilidh; Eilidh as she had been described to me. Delicate, ethereal in her beauty, but also hot with need: need for me. Her hair was pale and her skin was smooth and white as alabaster, whereas her eyes were the limpid grey of pearls and misty with arousal. I'm sure, when she is not in this state, they are a different colour. Never had I known a woman to be so beautiful, nor so passionate, and at the sight of her I lost my last vestige of control.
I became like an animal, knowing only the pleasure of my body. She was the same; biting and scratching as I thrust my fingers into her, clawing at my back and my breasts. This only served to drive us both into a greater frenzy. I had to taste her. I pulled her to her knees and onto my face. I eagerly licked her, whilst she began babbling entreaties in her ancient tongue.
I could hold back no longer. Nor could she, swinging around to throw her legs across my hips and once more to ease her body down on my fingers. As she began to move, her hair was flying around her face, now set in fierce, wonton ecstasy such as I have never seen in a modern woman. I gave to her as she gave to me, pushing hard into each other, and ever faster, picking up both pace and sound until the air trembled in time with the music that I could still hear in my head. She began to scream and it was as if she was singing; a song of joy and freedom and triumph all at once. As her song and the music came together in perfect crescendo in my mind, I too reached my climax, erupting within seconds of her. Shudders of uncontainable ecstasy ran through us both.
She had thrown her head back as she came, setting her body in the same tight arch she had held for so long as the pillar of the harp: perfectly still, as pale and smooth as if she were still carved, her full breasts thrust high, her belly pushed out to mine, her face still set in anguish and still the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.
Only as she came back into my arms did I realize that she was real, living flesh, as warm and vital as any other. Her lovely skin was lightly speckled with sweat from our exertions, her beating still fast, her heart hammering against mine. She was smiling too, happy to be alive and to be able to take pleasure in my body as I had taken pleasure in hers. Only her eyes betrayed any other emotion: a curious melancholy as if, in doing what we had just done, she had lost something.
The curious look in her eyes was only there for a fleeting moment. It was then gone, as her eyes closed and she moved her face towards mine. Our lips touched in the most delicate of kisses. She said something; her tone sweet and gentle yet infinitely sad, her hand rose to my face, to close my eyelids. Her lips then gently touched them. With her touch, a great weight seemed to have settled onto me: a tiredness I could not resist any more than I had resisted her body. I let myself overcome to sleep, falling asleep to distant music and her singing in a voice almost as quiet and full of sadness.
How long I slept I do not know. Perhaps it was just minutes. No, hours. When I woke, she was still there; standing at the base of the stairs in the rich golden light of daybreak. She was no longer naked, but dressed in my clothes. She looked ridiculous in that oversized shirt and rolled up trousers. I went to laugh, but then I heard footsteps on the staircase. She was reaching out for whoever was coming down the stairs: it was the old man from the bar. I went to get up and hide, I don't even know what I would have hidden behind. It was irrevelant anyway: I found I couldn't move. I couldn't even make a sound. My senses were alert, but my limbs were without feeling. I was set in stone, as the pillar of the harp.
I watched her take his hand and walk up the stairs, away from me and into her freedom. Taking one last glace in my direction, I saw, and understood, the look of regret in her eyes. I could see those now hazel eyes: the eyes I would never forget.
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