Allegro 40: Centuries

The hand of a craftsman is more treasured than any tool on the table. A tool needs not years of training and practice. A blade can never be as sharp as the mind that wields it.

— Gregor Maldin-Cross, The Art of Carpentry

Linsan sat at one of the tables in the public house. An array of tools and scraps of wood from around the village spread out around her on a tablecloth as she worked a thin knife back and forth to create a channel for the spline. It was tedious and precise work but also something she had been doing since she was a little girl.

“Why not just wrap it together?” Brook asked.

“Because…” Linsan said in a distracted voice, “my dad would kill me if I didn't repair this right. And that type of fix would never last with the amount of playing I'm going to do. I need a strong core but nothing too heavy to disrupt my movements.”

“And this will?”

Linsan let out her breath and carefully tapped the opening to dislodge the wooden slivers. “Better than wrapping. I couldn't find a good spline to use, much of the wood around here is too brittle to use and that big tree that we found was too oily and crumbled. But what I did find will work for a while, maybe a month or three. After that, I'll need to fix it properly if I didn't already ruin everything.”

“Then couldn't you just replace it? You can carve a new one, right?”

When she was a child, Linsan had asked the same question. She grinned at her father's lecture and tried to boil it down. “I could carve a new one in no time. It just wouldn't last long because a bow is more than shape, it's moisture, flexibility, and strength. Good bow wood is seasoned for half a century before—”

“Half a century!?”

Linsan looked up. “That's why the Sterlig family was devastated when we lost our forest. We had spent generations breeding the right trees for the ideal wood and we were curing generations of musical instruments when it went up in flames. People would pay us a century ahead to make the perfect instrument for their grandchildren and then…” She choked on the sad memories. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath and set down the knife. “… when everything burned up, we had to pay back those commissions to avoid debt collectors. Our income and reputation were ruined forever in that night.”

Brook said nothing as she looked down at her tea. It was in a large beer mug and Linsan could see the heavy cream and sugar swirling at the bottom.

Linsan shook her head. “It will probably take us two or three centuries until our lands can grow good instrument wood again. Assuming there is enough that has the right combination of resin and strength. Then another fifty before we can even start to make an instrument. After that… no one knows how long it would take before Sterlig meant something in the music world again.”

“Four hundred years… what do you? How do you recover from that?”

“Learn as much as I can from my father and then teach my children in hopes they will pass it down before we forget everything. Have faith, I guess.”

She worked the slice open until it was ready for the spline. Gently, she blew it clear.

“I guess you'll have to find a husband then.” Brook's voice was low.

Even though her parents never brought it up, Linsan knew she was the last of her line. But as she told Brook earlier, she had no interest in man or woman. She shrugged. “I don't have to birth a child to call it my own nor do I have to share blood to call someone family. I don't even need them to have my name to walk in our traditions.”

She looked up and smiled. “With those rules, I have plenty of time before I need to make a choice. I will not abandon you, Brook.”

Brook looked up and there was a brief flash of vulnerability, and then she smiled sadly.

It took another half hour before Linsan dipped the spline in a glue mixture Linsan had put together more with intuition than skill. Carefully knocking off a drop, she eased it into snugly into place. Carefully, she worked the halves of her bow back together before using a small hammer to tap a pair of brass nails into the wood and through the spline. It was an impromptu fix, but she was confident it would perform its duty to find Dukan's killers.

She carefully wiped everything down and then set the bow aside. Her breath came in a ragged exhalation as doubt and fear bubbled up. She had never had to repair anything in the field before, nor for something so critical in her life. If she made a mistake, then she had no doubt the bow would fail her in the middle of a fight when she needed it most.

Pushing everything down, she carefully picked it up and carried to their new room, paid for with a reasonable about of money once the crowds had left. She took a second trip for the rest of her supplies: the borrowed tools, the metal pieces of the bow, and the horse hair they had gathered from around the village.

Brook was standing by the front door when she came back. She had a piece of paper in her hand.

“What's that?”

She held it up. “Y-You said we had to learn new songs. I had a few that I thought might work but… I don't know their names or anything.”

Linsan grinned as she inspected it.

While Brook's handwriting was beautiful and calligraphic, she had never learned how to write or read music. She had “lots of string instruments and…” with lines showing the notes rising and falling.

Combing through her mind, Linsan tried to puzzle the names from the notes.

Brook blushed and looked away. “It's okay if we use only your songs. You know how—”

“No, I know most of these.”

Her dark curls bounced as she turned back sharply. “They are? I mean, you do?”

Linsan hummed through the first one.

“That's it!”

Ode to the Champion and this one is What Comes of the Nightbird, my mother auditioned for the play that introduced that one. These are really good songs for us, Brook. They have solid rhythms for you and I can adapt the music to my violin.”

“R-Really?” Brook looked surprised. Then she beamed with a relieved smile.

Encouraged, Linsan hugged her. “Come on, let's learn how to turn these songs into something violent.”