No one understands the mystical connection formed during that first note played by a musician on a new instrument.
— Tears of the Broken Harp (Act 2, Scene 8)
The rain hammered down on Linsan's wide-brimmed hat. The force was enough to create a stream of water pouring down her back. Her soaked hair and backpack weighed down on her shoulders after her half hour walk from school.
When her fourteenth birthday was rained out, she wasn't expecting it to keep raining for a week. She was already feeling anxious because she wasn't able to visit the family's valley because of a rain-out road. She had been visiting it almost daily for five years ever since she started only a few months after the fire. At first, it was her parents visiting the ruins but now it was just herself going every day after school.
Dragging her thoughts back to the present, she opened the front door, a blast of warmth brought the smells of her mother's perfume and the familiar scents of their century-old home.
Slipping her hat off, Linsan stepped across the threshold. With a hard flick, she threw the water off the brim before bringing it inside and tossing it on a low shelf near the shoes. Her soaked coat and boots followed after that. “I'm home, Daddy!”
She wasn't expecting an answer. Looking around, she saw a pair of boxes at the foot of the stairs. Inside were stacks of dusty books. She picked up the first one, History of Traditional Music. It was a third edition. She knew her father had just gotten the fifth edition a few weeks ago. Peering inside, she saw volumes on theories of song writing and more history books.
With a sigh, she set the book back into the box. Looking around, she considered her options. Her father would be in his study. With a little spin, she twirled her way down the narrow hallway to the living room and peered inside.
Her father's office was on the other side of the faded rug. There used to be a couch there, but a few too many leaps from one end to the other had destroyed it and they had to get rid of it a few years ago. In their place, four padded library chairs were arranged in a semicircle facing the old fireplace.
Sian sat with his back to her. His shoulders were hunched over his desk. The four old magical lanterns lit up the cramped room. The light shone on the stacks of newspapers, essays, and books that surrounded him. Even from the next room over, she could hear the slow but steady click of his new typewriter. It was the only major purchase he had made since the fire and even then he fretted about the expense for months.
She padded across the living room and came up to his side. Resting one hand on his shoulder, she leaned over to kiss his cheek. “I'm home.”
He paused, his trembling hands lifting off the ivory keys of his typewriter. Instead of looking at her, he glanced at the window. “You're early, usually you don't come home until night.”
“It's raining and the road is still out.”
He looked again and then made a low grunt. “That explains why my joints hurt. Did you go out and check?”
Sian finally turned to her and smiled. “Rain isn't usually this bad….” The words faded from his lips and a sad look darkened his gaze. He sighed. “I need to work for another hour or so, can you entertain yourself?”
Linsan kissed her father's cheek again. “Any news from Mother?”
“Any minute now. She was heading out of Canton at sunrise.” His voice sounded wistful for a moment but then he glanced at the papers and the joy faded.
She grinned. “That means you are taking those boxes into the attic before she notices? You know she hates seeing clutter after traveling all day.”
Sian looked at the pages. “I need to have eight more pages written before the courier is here. That's on the hour, um… about forty minutes?”
The silent request hovered between them for a moment.
“I'll put them away, Daddy. You just finish your column.”
“Thank you, Lin.”
Linsan patted him on the shoulder and felt a moment of sadness as he returned to his work. She couldn't remember the last time he had smiled. It had been weeks for sure, maybe months. She sighed and looked at the plain walls of his office and tried to remember what it looked like years ago when it still had his tools and projects on shelves.
She sighed and patted his shoulder again before heading to the stairs and regarding the boxes. The second was smaller. She opened it and peered inside. It contained her father's old music sheets, the songs that he had written. The pages were crinkled and old; he hadn't penned a song since the fire. Idly, she flipped through the pages and remembered how he would write and play while she bounced around the room.
It was a different life for both of them.
Linsan grabbed the boxes and hefted them. Fortunately, they weren't too heavy and she managed to stagger up the stairs to the second floor and over to the hall where the chain for the attic dangled from the ceiling.
By the time she managed to get the boxes up the ladder and into the attic, she was sweating from the effort. She stopped to peer around at the tightly-packed room. There were chests and boxes everywhere, all arranged into neat piles.
She took a deep breath.
When she caught a familiar smell, she froze. Underneath the dust and mold, there was a hint of wood stain and sawdust. It had been years since she smelled that.
Curious, she sniffed and circled the empty space until she found where the smells were stronger. The sharp scent, even after years of storage, brought back a rush of memories and she could almost picture her father's workshop before it had been stripped down.
A desperate need rose up and she grabbed the boxes and pulled them aside to try find the source. She peered into boxes as she did, a swarm of fond memories crashing into her thoughts as she recognized paintings that had been mounted on the walls. One of them was of Sian, her mother, and herself. It was a portrait set in front of the forest with him playing his violin as she and her mother danced around him.
Linsan remembered that day. She rubbed her eyes as she stroked her finger along her parent's faces. They were both smiling in that picture. In the last few months, the joy had faded from both of their eyes and she could tell her mother had to force her expression.
The next box had a pile of scorched instruments in it. The stench of burning wood clung to the box, seeping out in memories that darkened the cramped attic. She looked through them for a moment before pushing it aside.
Then she found what she was looking for. A heavy wooden toolbox. She saw down in front of it. With a trembling hand, she worked the rusted latches open and swung the top aside.
A dozen carving tools all lined up neatly as if they were about to be used in only a few minutes. Each one still shone with a thin layer of oil and only a few had spots of rust along the blades. The smell of wood stains rose around her. The familiar scents brought a tear running down her cheeks.
She couldn't remember when her father had put them away. She was ten when she came into his workshop to find the table swept clean and everything put away. The half-built instruments were also gone. It was as if he had given up overnight.
Wiping the tear from her face, she ran her fingers along his tools. He was always so happy when he was working with wood. She loved to dance and bounce as he spoke from his table. Nothing would let her forget the smell of wood stain or the dust that drifted down as he sanded away some tiny imperfection.
The other changes were less obvious. The fire had destroyed their family's reputation. It wasn't that her father couldn't create more instruments, but people stopped ordering new ones as he was forced to cancel the commissions he had started. Without the unique woods that went into each one, the sounds that made her family famous were irrevocably lost. Without that, he couldn't compete with the cheaper craftsmen who had built factories to produce cheap sounds.
Linsan sighed and shook her head sadly. She closed the lid to the tools and pushed the box aside. She looked around with bleary eyes and a sob caught in her throat. She had been visiting the burnt remains of the workshop and the valley for years without a problem, but seeing the boxes was too much.
She started to push herself to her knees then she noticed a polished wooden box behind everything else. With tears in her eyes, she grabbed it and pulled it into her lap. It was light, not more than ten pounds. She didn't recognize it but their family crest had been carved into the top. Underneath it was a single name: Marin.
“Who is that?” Linsan ran her fingers along the three latches of the box. Curiosity won quickly and she opened it up and peeked inside.
On top was a couple sheets of music for a song she had never heard before, Safe Adventures, Our Departed Loves. She picked it up curiously and saw her father's name. But before she read a few notes, she spotted a violin nestled into the velvet indentions of the case.
It was a beautiful instrument. Untouched by dust and flame, it shone even in the dim light of the attic. Along the edge, she could see her father's rich details and carvings. The wood was a warm reddish brown, a beautiful example of the wood of the now burned forest. The neck was smooth, designed for playing. The scroll at the top, on the other hand, was an intricate whorl of wooden petals and vines. Marin's name had been carved in one side and “Palisis” on the other.
Linsan stared in shock and longing. It had been a long time since she heard or seen the violin's name. After the fire, her father had tried to continue her lessons but both of them had given up after only a few months. More tears ran down her cheeks as she ran her fingers along the strings. They were loose but it only took a few twists to tighten them.
In that moment, she wished she knew how to play. Only a few weeks of lesson wasn't enough, but the need to hear the past overwhelmed her.
With a delicate flick of her finger, she strummed along the strings. They were all out of tune but she vaguely remembered how each string should ring out. Using her fingers, she pried it out of the case enough to twist one of the keys. When she flicked the string, it sounded even worse and she turned the tuning peg in the opposite direction until it sounded better. Working from memory of what the violin should sound like, she adjusted the other strings until she was satisfied.
Her father would know exactly how to make it sound right but it was close enough for her.
Linsan picked up the song again. She played it out in her head, working through the complex notes across the bars. It was a song for a violin, but a player who possessed considerably more skill than herself. She read through it twice and realized she had no chance of even remotely following her father's creation.
Setting it down, she started to put it away but the lure of the violin was too much. She admired her father's work, from the way the instrument had been fitted together to the incredible shine of the varnish created by their grandfather. It was an instrument that begged to be played.
With a trembling hand, she pulled out the violin and rested it on her shoulder. Pressing her chin against the rest, she brought her arm out to where she thought she remembered from her lessons.
There was a matching bow in the box. It took her a moment to pry it out. The hair was also loose. She had to put the violin down to tighten them and then took another moment to get everything back up against her chin and shoulder.
Holding her breath, she brought the bow to the strings and let the hairs rest against the strings.
Not even a hum of a noise.
With a hesitant smile, she glanced at the opening in the floor leading downstairs. Then she turned back and tried to remember that fateful night.
The bow came down and the purest, richest tone rose from the violin. She let out a sob at the memories. Her body still remembered the next tones of the naughty song her father had taught her. She drew the bow through the notes; it came out far smoother than she remembered. She reached the end and remembered how her father said one movement led into another. She brought the bow back and continued into the next note. The third turned into fourth, then fifth, sixth, and seventh.
Linsan couldn't remember where the lessons had stopped but she knew the music. She closed her eyes and swayed as she worked her way slowly through the entire song.
With the last tone, she held her breath until the last of the vibrations faded. Then, with tears drying on her cheeks, she carefully loosened the strings and hairs and carefully packed the violin back into its case.
Then she noticed two letters tucked into the case along the side. She pulled out them out and looked at the names on the enveloped: one written to Marin and one to Sian, her father. She ran her finger over the wrinkled, aged paper but didn't open it. Carefully, she closed the box and buried it again.
After shoving boxes into place, she headed back downstairs.
Her mother and father were standing at the foot of the stairs in the entry hall. Both of them had red-rimmed eyes and she could see tears glistening on their cheeks.
Her mother's long blonde hair was pulled into a braid that had already started to pull apart. Her travel dress was soaked and clung down over her slender form. Even though she was wet, she held Sian's hand tightly.
Linsan felt a flash of guilt and fear. “S-Sorry. I didn't mean to play it, I just… I just… I couldn't help it.”
Her father sniffed and wiped the tears from his eyes.
“That was beautiful,” said her mother.
She let out her breath with a whoosh. Trembling, she reached for the handrail and held it tightly as she inched down the stairs.
Her mother came up to meet her. Her hands were cool but firm. “You know how I feel about that song.”
Linsan blushed. “Sorry.”
“It was just wonderful to hear your father's work again.” Her voice turned into a whisper. “That was Marin's instrument but she never had a chance to play it.”
As Linsan's confused look, she amended herself. “I'll explain later.”
Linsan gasped and looked down at her father. There was a tradition that the first musician to play an instrument would forever have a special bond with it. She never thought she would be the first one. “Oh, Daddy, I'm so sorry. I-I didn't—”
Sian shook his head. “I should have taken that over to the safe deposit box.” His voice was cracked and broken. He shook his head. “It's too late now.”
Her mother cleared her throat. “No one has to know a musician had played a song on it.”
“I'll know, Tisin,” he said sourly. “I'll always know that she was the first. Not Marin.”
With a grunt, he shook his head again and headed toward his office. His shoulders lowered with every step and she could almost see the joy pouring out of him and pain replacing what had just been destroyed.
Linsan's tears came back. She hugged her mother tightly. “I'm sorry. I-I just wanted to hear it.”
“It was beautiful, Honey.” She grinned. “Even if it was a song about butts.”
Linsan couldn't tell if she was crying or laughing.
Tisin winked. “We'll just write a little note that it hasn't been played before. I'm sure Dukan can come up with something. That way, if things get bad here, it will have a higher value on the market.”
It felt crass to put a price on the last instrument her father had made but she knew that they had already lost so much since the fire. She sniffed and wiped her tears away. “Who's Marin?”
“Your father's wife… from his first marriage. She married my wife when you were young.”
Linsan froze as she stared at her mother in shock.
Tisin smiled and drew up to her full height. She still had traces of makeup on her face and half of her hair had gotten loose. Linsan could see a hint of the grand lady who dominated the stages for years. Her pale skin was ethereal, her gaze hovering right at the point of being playful and evil.
Then, her mother almost floated down the stairs, leaving Linsan along to struggle with the sudden change in understanding her parents.