Chapter 5: Bitter Partings
The rise of the affluent middle class was a surprise to almost everyone. No one expected that workers would ever have the wealth and power of High Society.—Wastor da Joknig, After the Destruction of Natural Order
Aching and miserable, Linsan limped up the stone path leading home. The blood on her hands and face had dried on the long, painful walk home. It felt like every joint in her body ached from where Brook’s blast had tossed her aside.
She spat into the wilted flowers along the side of the path and regarded the stairs leading up to her porch. Every step seemed like an agony and the three steps were almost too much.
Linsan stopped. Wiping her forehead, she turned and sat heavily down on the stairs. Her ruined violin case thumped onto the ground next to her, the makeshift binding made from strips of her skirt and her underclothes kept it sealed shut but she could hear it rattle inside.
She panted in discomfort and looked at the empty street. Fortunately, they lived on the edge of town and she only got a few curious stares on her walk home. It didn’t help that most of them were double-takes and gasps of surprise. No doubt she was already the subject of gossip.
As much as she hated Brook for mocking her, the other girl was right. The only reason they survived was her mother’s singing and dancing. Her reputation kept them on the edge of comfort. Dukan didn’t have that, he worked hard to keep a roof over his three girls.
Neither of them could afford an embarrassment. She rubbed her aching jaw and shook her head. It was best just to pretend the fight had never happened.
Linsan glanced at the violin. She wanted to see if the strange magic happened if she played it again. She was also scared that it wouldn’t. Worrying her bottom lip, she shook her head and promised to try it again when she headed back to the valley. After the fight, she was sure Brook wouldn’t try to interrupt again.
A cool breeze rippled along her thighs. She squirmed in discomfort. After a few minutes, she considered heading up to her room and seeing if she could sneak a hot shower before her father caught her with uncomfortable questions.
Steeling herself, Linsan pushed herself up.
A loud grinding noise echoed down the street.
She froze with a feeling of dread. She had heard of the new vehicles in town and there were only a few people who could afford the expensive machines. One of them was Dukan. With a groan, she watched the column of steam as it approached steadily from a few blocks away.
There were a thousand things she could have done, but none of them seemed to come to mind as the large-wheeled vehicle came to a rumbling halt in front of the house. It was monstrous thing, unnatural and harsh looking.
The two riders weren’t people Linsan didn’t want to meet either. Dukan got out first, his black suit glistening from the steam that clung to the fabric. He pulled a pair of goggles off his face and snapped them to the side. Flecks of water splattered onto the cobblestones.
Brook slipped off her side of the car. Her shoulders were slumped and her new dress damp across her body. She wore a deep green color but the ruffles were all limp and dripping.
Dukan strode up the walk. “Lin! You look beaut…” His voice trailed off as he got closer. “Actually, you look like you’ve been in a pretty nasty fight. Brook did a number on you, didn’t she?”
Behind him, his daughter glared at his back. She had a black eye and bandages along her hands and shoulder. Her leather boots scuffed against the flagstone path. She held her dress away from the ground.
Linsan regarded Dukan. At first, she considered blaming Brook for the fight and the resulting damage. After all, she had ruined Linsan’s violin case and started the argument. She deserved all the punishment she would get.
But that wouldn’t help anyone. She sighed and shook her head. “It wasn’t a big deal,” she lied.
Brook tensed and straightened her back. She looked surprised.
“Nonsense, as beautiful as Brook is, she’s got a temper. Though, she has a tendency to rip dresses. An expensive habit to say the least.”
Dukan waved his hand, silencing her. “Is Tisin in?”
Brook glared at him but said nothing.
Linsan shook her head. “No, she’s just left for another tour of My Fairest Rose along the southern regions. She’s coming into her second stop tonight. She’ll be there for three days before moving on.”
Dukan ran his hand along his short, dark hair. He smiled and shrugged. “Pity. I haven’t had a chance to hear that play. I’ve always loved watching her dance.”
He seemed lost for a moment. Then he smiled brightly. “Your dad in?”
“Probably. I haven’t been in but he’s always in the study at this time of day.”
Dukan turned to his daughter. “Stay out here and try not to ruin your dress. I’m going to talk to Sian and see if we can smooth this over.” He pointed at her. “No fighting.”
“Yes, Daddy,” came the sullen response.
Dukan patted Linsan on the shoulder as he passed her. His polished shoes thudded against the wooden steps. He knocked before letting himself in. “Hey, Sian, got a minute?”
When the door closed behind him, Linsan couldn’t help but stare at the door with discomfort. What was he going to say to her father? Was she going to get in trouble? How would her father respond to the broken case or the scratches along her instrument? Both were expensive and they couldn’t afford much.
She turned around to glare at Brook.
Brook was only a few inches away from her, glaring back at her.
Linsan gasped and stumbled back until she hit the step with her foot. “W-What?”
“This is all your fault,” Brook whispered in a sharp tone as she pointed angrily at Linsan.
“You started it!” hissed Linsan back.
“There is a different between talking and you throwing blows!”
“You ruined my case.”
“It’s a stupid case, who cares?”
“I care!” Linsan managed to regain some of her balance and straightened up. She stepped forward, but Brook didn’t move back so they were pressed chest-to-chest as the two teenagers hissed at each other. “That was my case and you broke it. This was your fault, not mine!”
Muscles along Brook’s jaw tightened.
Linsan rushed forward with her anger, shoving forward with her body… “You’re the one who followed me to the workshop. You were the one who said my family was trash and—”
“Your family is trash, you stupid bitch!” Brook shoved back with her bandaged hands.
Ready this time, Linsan shoved back with her foot to catch herself before she hit the step. She hiked herself up and shifted to the side so she wouldn’t fall. When she came down, she used the momentum to plant her hands on Brook’s shoulders and shove with all her might. “We lost everything!”
Brook stumbled back into the grass. Her ankle turned and she let out a hiss before hopping further away. “That was just a burnt out pass, I’m talking about my future!”
She started forward but then cringed when her foot struck the ground. “I was supposed to have a pretty power, a silk! Now, every time I clap my hands, every Couple-damned window cracks!” She was no longer hissing, but screaming at the top of her lungs. “What kind of man is going to want a wife who can break walls!”
Tears sparkled in Brook’s eyes. She yanked her dress up and tried to lunge forward again. She tripped and twisted back to avoid falling. When she looked up, the tears were rolling down her cheeks. “I’m ruined because of that stupid fight! All because you attacked me!”
Linsan fought the urge to rush forward and slap her. “You threatened to burn Palisis!” she screamed as loudly as she could. “That’s our family’s treasure and you were going to just burn it!”
“It’s just a stupid violin!”
Something snapped inside Linsan. She rushed forward.
“Stop!” bellowed Sian and Dukan at the same time.
Linsan tripped on the edge of the wall and came down hard on her knees. Pain shot through her limbs as she bent forward in pain. When she looked up through the waterfall of her brunette hair, she saw that Brook had also fallen back into the dirt.
“What in the Couple-damned hell is going on?” yelled Dukan. “Is this not starting a fight?”
“Quiet, Girl! You obviously can’t listen to a simple rule.” Dukan’s shoes thudded down the stairs. “Get off the ground.”
He held out his hand for Linsan.
Crying from the pain, Linsan took it and pulled herself up to her feet. She glanced at her father.
Sian looked old at the top of the stairs. His skin was pale and wrinkled and there was no joy left in his eyes. He sighed and shook his head.
She cringed. “Sorry, Daddy.”
“No,” Dukan said, “I should apologize for my daughter. She obviously can’t be trusted to exercise restraint.”
He held up his hand to silence her without looking at her. “Who or what is Palisis?”
Sian spoke from the porch. “It’s Marin’s violin.”
“Marin? She didn’t keep it?”
“She died before she could play it. Junith sent it back with a letter.” He sniffed and bowed his head.
“It’s never been played?”
Linsan tensed. She still remembered the first and only time she played the instrument. It was a beautiful sound and she ached to hold the instrument in her hand to do it again. But, her mother had insisted they said it was untouched when they wrapped it up and sent to the family safe box for keeping.
Sian nodded. “Yeah, never been played.”
Even though he didn’t say it, Linsan could see her father die a little when he spoke. His eyes shimmered with tears for a moment before he wiped them with the back of his hand.
Dukan looked confused. “It’s a virgin Sterlig, Sian. Selling that would get you millions of crowns. Why are you working when that thing could set you for life.”
Sian shook his head. “It’s Marin, Dukan. You know that. She was Tis’s first wife and she married my second. There isn’t another person closer to both of us than her. How could I just… throw that away for some money?”
With a sigh, Dukan returned to Sian. He took the first step up to grab Linsan’s father’s hand and squeezed it tightly. “Forgive me. I remember Marin and I should have never asked.”
Sian nodded but said nothing.
Behind Linsan, Brook whispered to herself. “Women can marry each other?”
Linsan didn’t answer.
Dukan patted Sian’s hand a few more times before he backed down the stairs until he was even with Linsan. “It will be safe at my bank, Sian. I promise you that.”
Her father nodded. “Thank you, Dukan. I’m sorry for everything.”
“No one could have known that the fire would destroy everything. However, it’s obvious that I’ve obviously drifted from your life in the last eight years. I apologize for that.” He glanced at Linsan. “Look, I have a good life and a bit of money. How about I set up a patronage for you?”
Sian pulled a face. “Dukan, I’m honored but—”
Dukan held up his hand. “No, I worked for your father and you for my entire life until that point. You were always good men and a good family. This is the least I can do. Let me help, even if to give your daughter something.”
Linsan inhaled with surprise. She glanced at Brook who looked hurt and just as surprise as herself.
“Just a couple hundred crowns a month? Three? To help with the bills?”
Sian opened his mouth to say something but then choked back a sob.
Dukan smiled at Linsan who gave him a hesitant smile back.
Then he turned back to her father. “I’m moving… to the other side of town. I bought a nice house. They also just opened up a private school for girls and my daughters are going.”
Linsan looked back. Brook obviously didn’t know about that.
“I’m sorry, but this probably means we’re aren’t going to see much of each other again.”
Linsan could feel the profound sadness. Over the years, she’s seen her father’s friends drifting away as fortunes shifted. There weren’t many left and Dukan barely visited. It felt like she was watching the last plank bridging their past lives and today being removed.
“I understand, Duk.” Sian sighed and nodded.
“Please, let me help. At least until she’s done with school. Maybe a few years after that.”
With tears rolling down his cheeks, Sian nodded again.
Dukan gave Linsan a smile before turning back to his car. “Come on, Brook.”
Brook looked at her, some of the anger replaced by confusion. Then she followed her father back to their car.
Linsan didn’t move as she watched them drive away. Then she turned to look at her father. “I’m sorry.”
He wiped the tears from his eyes. “I always knew it was going to happen.”
Her father stopped moving for a moment, then he turned and opened the door. “Come on, Honey. We might as well start your lessons.”
“You manifested powers, right?”
“The violin?” He wasn’t looking at her.
She cringed. “Yes.”
“Then it would take the Couples walking the earth hand-in-hand to stop you from playing that instrument. I’d rather you know how to play properly than to hurt someone with a misplaced melody or note. So, you need to have lessons and I’m probably the best person to teach you.”
She gaped in surprise. Then she gathered her ruined case and headed up the stairs.