The harp, it was said, summoned dragons. No one in town really held with that kind of nonsense; dragons, along with faeries and elves, had been consigned to legend. Even so, there was an air of suspicion around the fine gold instrument for, though it had stood encased in glass for centuries, it still gleamed as though struck by sunlight, even when bathed in shadow. No one wished to disturb it. In spite of its alluring appearance, no one wished to play it. And so it continued to stand alone in the mouth of the cave just beyond the town boundary. The mountain above it provided shelter and security. There was only one way in and out of the cave: with the town in front and the peak above and around, the townspeople slept easy knowing it would continue to stand vigil from a safe distance.
Aislinn had only seen the harp up close once. She had convinced her brother to creep with her into the shadowy entrance of the cave one afternoon when they had been able to leave the fields early. He had only agreed after she had promised him her share of apple pie in return and even then he had tried to back out when they reached the mountain’s foot. Headstrong and obstinate, she had forged ahead in spite of her protestations and he had been forced to follow.
Once inside the damp, cool air of the cave, Aislinn had been drawn inexorably onward by the warm glow of the harp behind its glass. She could hear it calling to her. Gentle echoes thrummed in her head like the memory of plucked strings. Her fingers had stretched out of their own accord to press against the glass. It had been shockingly warm. Hot, even. As though it stood out in the sun rather than in the cool confines of the cave. For a moment, disoriented by the unexpected heat and those rippling echoes, she could have sworn her fingers had started to sink through the glass. And then her brother had called out, shattering the illusion and hurting her away from that ethereal place.
Since that day, not a night had passed when she hadn’t dreamt about the harp. Always the same dream. Shimmering gold. A rush of heat. Strange, unearthly music. Fingers sinking into molten glass. The brush of wings that woke her, sweating in her bed. Always the same sense of longing and unfulfilled destiny in her gut upon waking.
The harp haunted her. She would not return to the cave but every day she would watch for the glint of gold at sunset, from her favourite perch in the hayloft. Surrounded by the comforting scent of chaff and the last rays of daylight, she would recall the magic of that place and let the memory of it crawl in tingling gooseflesh over her skin.
For five long years she held the secret of it close:a talisman against hard days and long winters. She grew from child to young woman and still she told no-one. Still she did not return to the harp. Still she would watch for that final flicker of gold in the fading light of day.
Sunset on the autumn equinox of he sixteenth year was a day like any other. She worked her family’s land from dawn ’til dusk. She scurried up to the hayloft for that gilded end to the day’s labours. She cooked and ate with her brother and father at their study old kitchen table. And she clambered into bed, exhausted, to dream of music and fire.
Except the dream had changed.
All was silent. All was cold. The flickering light of the harp was dull and fading. Its pull on her, however, was not. It drew her close like an anchor hooked in her heart was being pulled up, taking her with it. She didn’t know if the tremors she felt were longing or fear or both. When her fingers hit the glass, she screamed aloud. It burned like the white hot centre of the blacksmith’s fire. She passed bodily through the scalding barrier to find the burning metal of the harp already in her hands, her fingers reaching for the strings. The beat and brush of wings against her skin forced her eyes up. Eyes like diamonds in a pool of flame stared back. A voice in her head – old as time, resounding like thunder – urged one thing: “Play.”
The next morning, the town woke to find Aislinn and the harp gone from their midst and, from the mountain top, a new shadow falling over them.
This was a free writing response to a writing prompt: “The harp, it was said, summoned dragons.”