“Inspiration is a deeply personal experience. Spiritual, if you will, in that it connects us to the divine as it warms us through, filling us completely until we don’t just feel as though we might burst if we don’t find an outlet for it, we know we are going to reach climax and anticipate that burst of bliss with every fiber of our being.”
In the forty-five minutes since he’d started lecturing, he’d made no less than six (she had counted them,) titillating, but completely unnecessary sexual metaphors.
Nyannah watched the poet pace as he spoke, the swish of his thigh-high leather boots whisking him across the tiled floor, the buckles occasionally tremoring musically with heavy step, his hands wringing at his waist and eyes staring off into some vision none but him could see.
It was as though he was very far away, perhaps in conference with the gods themselves, and they fed him words the way a lusty servant girl might feed her master grapes.
Great, now she was thinking in unnecessary sexual metaphors.
She had arrived forty-seven minutes before the lecture was set to begin, seated herself in the front row and waited until the master poet arrived via the back door, a clever maneuver in order to avoid the horde of students and non-students that gathered outside the lecture hall for a glimpse of him.
Though there were far fewer people on the second day of his lecture series than there had been the day before, those who had come were overzealous and unrelenting in their desire to simply hear the sound of his voice. Some stood, ears pressed to the walls and doors beyond the hall, but she imagined by the fourth and final lecture the novelty of waiting on a celebrity to appear might wear off, and the students would be able to reach the doors of the lecture without having to batter and beat their way through a crowd.
“…speaks to us, and we must listen, for that is our calling. It doesn’t matter what we are doing when it strikes. Waist deep in the swamps, aback a horse and traveling through lands hazed with the smoke of war, tangled in the arms of a lover…” She swore, he turned his gaze on her as he said those last words, the sentences that followed lost in the intensity of his eyes and the movement of his shapely, kissable lips.
Gods, Nyannah cursed beneath her breath. What was happening to her? She’d never felt so strange or attracted to anyone in her life, and most especially not someone so unobtainable. Her face flushed, the heat spreading down her neck and into the modest collar of her shirt to warm her breasts.
No one dared raise a hand or pose a single question while he spoke, and though Nyannah found herself with plenty of questions in need of answers, inspired thoughts that sprang up during his speech, she wrote them down and hoped for opportunity to ask them at another time. Not that she could even imagine when another time would come. He was a world-famous poet, a guest at Oxenfurt with a full entourage of fans and squealing young ladies who couldn’t breathe when they got close to him.
She’d heard that no less than seven young ladies hyperventilated and lost consciousness when he was spied walking through the courtyard in casual conversation with the dean of medicine. Unfortunately, the dean was then called away, as those seven people were whisked off to the medical department for treatment, and Master Dandelion was shortly thereafter seen slipping into a quiet alcove near the library before subtly disappearing from campus altogether until his appointed lecture time later that evening.
It seemed absurd, people getting so odd and bent out of shape about a simple man, and yet her own dreams had haunted her throughout the day. Spirited memories of those beautiful seeds spiraling and dancing on the wind, the melancholy beauty of his voice, his haunted eyes… She’d missed her first class to put her emotional connection to a stranger down on paper before she forgot it, and she couldn’t understand how, or even why she felt the way she did.
He was a stranger.
Even though she’d known several of his poems by heart since she was old enough to commit such things to memory… She did not know him, but part of her felt as though she should be given the opportunity to.
Did that make her just like everyone else? Would she next be finding herself winded and flustered, on the verge of collapse upon hearing word that he was about to pass by the window of her morning class on the art of meter and rhyme?
No… She didn’t think so. Though maybe…
Glancing up from her notes, quill poised above the last thought she’d jotted down, she realized he had at some point taken off his hat and laid it atop the stool. The feather whirled and wavered with the breeze of his pacing movement, and because he never seemed to stop moving, neither did the feather. She watched it jostle like an elegant dancer, the spidery movements reminiscent of magic and in some secret part of herself she wondered what it might feel like to touch that feather to her cheek, to stretch her neck and trace it along the curve, feeling it tickle and bring delightful goose bumps to the surface of her pale white skin.
“But where do we find these inspirations?” he asked. “In the pages of books?” He picked up a stack of books from the lecture hall table, held them up in demonstration and then dropped them with an echoing thump back onto the tabletop.
Somewhere in the back of the lecture hall a sleeping male student jolted awake with a snoring snort, but Master Dandelion didn’t seem to notice, or even care.
“In the words of others?”
He flattened his palm atop the stack of books and leaned into them as he looked out into the room. He made eye contact with several people, burning straight into their souls, before finally resting his inquisitive gaze on her.
“How many of you found your first inspirations while reading the works of others? Perhaps the poetry in my collections? In the Ballad of Lara Dorren and Cragen of Lod?” He scanned the room, and one by one hands began to rise in silent answer to his question. Nyannah lifted her arm as well, lowering it when he began to pace again. “And do we consider that resonance, the voices of others that reach into our souls, pluck the strings of our hearts and make us tingle with such emotion we can feel it in the deepest part of ourselves, do we call that inspiration?”
He paused in his speech, but did not stop pacing, spinning a full turn at the end of the dais and walking casually back the way he’d come.
“There are some who philosophize that these first moments do more than inspire us. That the words of others awaken the dormant part of us that was born to be a bard, but did not realize it was our calling until we recognized the gift in a far more skilled kindred spirit of the page.”
Nyannah was in awe, enraptured by the tone of his voice and inspired in ways she had not felt for a very long time. Each time she glanced up and saw the flash of color in his eyes while he spoke passionately about his life and his work, his philosophy on inspiration, she longed to transpose that moment to the page and capture it, if for no one else but her.
She felt foolish for feeling that way.
Even as she listened to his voice, even as she recalled the resonation of his poetry, which had definitely stoked a fire inside her while she read it aloud to herself so many times in the past. She knew she did not know the man in front of her. Those words were only pieces of himself he shared with the world, intimate pieces, yes, precise and acute, absolutely, but what of the real Dandelion?
How much of himself did he leave out, keep tucked away and hidden inside where none would ever find it?
The full ninety minutes of that second lecture sped by so furiously fast it was over before she realized, ten minutes over to be precise, as the lecturer lost track of time, but honestly she thought she could very well listen to him go on and on all night.
He was brilliant. Inspired in ways she’d never dared to imagine she could be herself, and though he seemed to believe inspiration in its earliest form could be found in the words of others, he’d gone on from the page, from the writings and songs of other poets and saw the world, witnessed the brutality of war firsthand, seen empires rise and kingdoms fall. He’d watched as the people he loved were lost forever, and then he wrote it all down as it was happening in hopes of releasing it into the world and freeing himself from the grip it held on his soul.
She’d seen no such wonders or horrors.
Nyannah had never been out of Redania, and before she came to Oxenfurt to attend the academy she’d rarely traveled away from her father’s estate in Tretogor. She was a bright-eyed and curious girl when she arrived in Oxenfurt, ready to take on the world, but beyond the halls of the academy, she rarely saw the city it was named for. She always had her nose in a book, her mind on her studies, and as she delved deeper between the pages, she forgot what it felt like to be inspired, to feel as alive as she had when she’d first arrived at Oxenfurt and had her eyes opened by new sights and experiences.
It slowly began to occur to her, as she began edging toward the finalization of her graduating thesis, that she’d made a grave error when she got lost inside those pages. They spoke of beauty and wonder, the stories carrying her away from the world and filling her with what she thought was inspiration, but in the end it boiled down to one stark, disparaging fact: she knew nothing of the world.
How was she meant to write about things she’d never truly experienced, to sing songs that captured the essence of life and love, of the beauty in darkness and the lingering light of hope when all hope felt lost, when she herself had never truly lived or loved? Never witnessed darkness so severe it filled her with terror worthy of the pen?
He set them free, wished them well and began to gather his things. Nyannah lingered, some small part of her longing to be noticed, while the rest of her hoped he wouldn’t notice her at all. It was the smaller part of her that won out in the end, as he turned and caught her rising from her seat, once more over the shoulder of some sophomore student who gushed and asked for an autograph, and who would quite likely take away little else from his lecture than the fact that he’d touched the fingers on her left hand while reaching for her quill to amicably oblige her.
It surprised her when he smiled at her, his stare lingering long before he took the pen and turned attention to the task at hand, granting Nyannah opportunity to slip away. She reached the back of the lecture hall before he realized she was attempting to escape unnoticed, and when he called to her, using the name she still didn’t understand how he’d come to know, her heart felt like a stone dropping in a deep pond and for a moment she nearly forgot how to breathe.
“Miss Vel Andolay, a moment of your time, please?”
Swallowing, she hesitated before turning around, hoped she wasn’t making some idiotic face that branded her the lovesick fool prepared to swoon into her professor’s arms, and then she said, “Of course, Master Dandelion.” Only she stammered, quite nervously, stuttering over the syllables of his name like an amateur as his hand patted the shoulder of the young woman seeking his autograph as he began walking toward her.
Defeated, the girl hiked the stairs toward the door, casting a disparaging look over her shoulder at the graduating senior student who’d captured the professor’s attention.
“We went more than ten minutes past the schedule period for the lecture,” he announced with a rakish grin as he took the stairs to join her in the middle of the auditorium. “My gift to you, since you missed the first ten minutes of yesterday’s lecture.”
“That’s very kind of you,” she laughed. “Though you did not sing tonight, and it was that I missed and lament the most.”
“Would you like to hear me sing?” he asked.
Tightness gripped her throat, made it difficult for her to swallow. “Are you not afraid I’d interrupt you?”
It was his turn to chuckle, a light brand of amusement that touched something inside her and reminded her of the assessment she’d made the night before regarding his strange awareness of the world joke. “It would not be the first time.”
She lowered her eyes, fresh embarrassment spreading fire into her cheeks. Before she had a chance to mutter another apology, he said, “Look, I’ve promised the owner of the Quill and Scroll I would play there tonight after my lecture. I’d be… honored if you came.”
It was already late, and she couldn’t afford to miss another morning class, but something in his eyes pleaded with her when she lifted her gaze to his. “I have an early class in the morning,” she started.
“Oh,” he nodded, “I… I understand.”
“No,” she actually started to reach a tentative hand toward him when he turned to head back down the stairs, but he turned back to look at her and she quickly withdrew the gesture. He watched her hand, studied her as she tucked it nervously beneath her folded arm and said, “I would love to come, even if it means going to class…”
“Late?” he teased.
“Tired,” she finished.
“Walk with me?” He held out his arm and she took it, looping through and sidling up to him as they took the stairs together. He gathered his books, dropped his hat atop his head and showed her through the back door, gesturing with his arm like a gentleman into the dark and quiet alleyway behind the trouvership building.
She waited at his back as he took out a set of keys and locked the door, then he turned into her, offered her is arm again and the two of them fell into rhythmic step together.
The night air was deliciously cold on her skin, April’s breath whispering through the braided tendrils of her dark blond hair until they teased and tickled her cheeks. So close to him, she could smell his cologne, a mixture of pleasant smells that clung to his skin and clothes and branded the threads of an instant memory she would call upon in the much later years of her life.
“Master Dandelion,” she began, her voice trembling with nerves, “may I ask you something?”
“Of course, though I’m sure I already know what it is?”
“I’m quite intuitive, you know.” He grinned down over his shoulder at her, revealing perfect teeth between slightly parted lips. “Why am I paying such close attention to you, of all people?” The nerve and ego of that man, she thought. “Especially after you humiliated, disrespected and embarrassed me by interrupting my lecture with your late arrival yesterday. And the answer is simple…”
“Actually,” she felt instantly guilty again and almost lost her train of thought, “I wanted to ask how you knew my name, since we have never met before I so rudely humiliated, disrespected and embarrassed you with my late arrival to your lecture yesterday.”
“Ah, yes, that…”
She listened to the combined pattern of their footfall on the paving stones, the rhythmic sound so eerily perfect it seemed uncanny.
“The only daughter of Benzier Vel Andolay,” he went on, “I had heard from a colleague that old Skull and Bones’ daughter was here at the academy, studying not medicine, like her father, but poetry and I won’t deny the very thought intrigued me.”
“Old Skull and Bones?” she quirked an eyebrow upward, catching the gleam of his impish grin again.
“A nickname,” he explained. “Your father was… well… I was forced to take a class with him to meet some academic requirement meant to broaden my horizons, when in fact I’ve never had to draw upon the information during actual course of my life over the years, and the experience was… how do I put it… rather dull?” he offered. “An utter waste of time that would have been better spent chasing pretty girls around the fountain in the courtyard and drowning myself in cherry cordial when the world seemed all but impossible for my young mind to understand.”
“He took medicine very seriously,” she said.
“Which I am quite sure was to the benefit of his patients over the years, but for a poet with absolutely no interest in the biological beyond the nature of the birds and bees…”
“He spoke of you sometimes, especially once I began to show an interest in the arts,” she confessed. “Not fondly, I might add.”
“And why would he recall me with any fondness?” he laughed again. “I was an insufferable pain in his arse and the man would have given his front teeth to see me tossed from the school and into the gutters, where he claimed my kind belonged.”
“He would not have been pleased to hear I chose trouvership and poetry as my major.”
“Is that why you chose it?”
There had been times in her life when she asked herself that question. Life with her father had been tenuous, strained at the very best of times, as he’d been an old man when she was born, already set in his ways and somewhat disappointed she’d not been born a boy. She was only twelve when he passed away, and though her mother hadn’t scolded her for doing the exact opposite of what her father would have wanted her to do with her future, Nyannah felt both guilty and liberated at the same time when she declared her major.
However, she hadn’t chosen it to spite the ghost of her father. She’d felt a great passion for words and music from the moment she’d learned to read and comprehend them. Some of her earliest memories were of the bard who came to sing at her parents’ fifteenth anniversary party the year she turned five, a beautiful woman who called herself Little Eye and filled the night with beauty and song that lingered on for Nyannah for weeks after that party.
“To spite my father?” she asked.
“No, that is not why I chose this path.”
“Good,” he decided. “That is very good to hear. I find that those who choose to base the course of their future around defying the wishes of their parents often wind up most unhappy and not in the way that inspires deep and profound verse.”
“Are you very unhappy, Master Dandelion?”
She didn’t know why she asked that question, but it just came out. The lantern lights that lined the streets on the other side of the building barely illuminated the alleyway through which they walked, but it conjured enough light that she could see the shadowed profile of his face, the flash of his eyes and the barest hint of the sorrow that lingered inside them.
“Yes, Nyannah,” he said. “I am very unhappy.”
“Is it the kind of unhappiness that inspires deep and profound verse?”
“I fear it goes much deeper than that.”
Up ahead, several bodies milled around the back doors of the tavern and she felt his body stiffen instantly upon seeing them. He made move to duck left, into the adjoining alley that ran beside the tavern, but the adoring fans who awaited him there caught sight of them and began calling out, “Dandelion! Dandelion!”
And just like that he was whisked away from her before she could ask how deep the sorrow went, and if there was a cure.
Nyannah watched as the crowd spirited him away, but he glanced helplessly back over his shoulder at her before they swallowed him entirely, an apologetic shrug lifting his shoulders and reaching his eyes. It was as if that simple gesture was answer enough for his unhappiness, and she wondered, as she wove through the tangled bodies crowding the pipe smoke-filled room, if fame alone was the reason he claimed discontent.