The entire point of high society is to be seen and talked about.
— Halistin Gor-Takil, Lifestyles of the High and Rich
Linsan stood near the edge of the stage and stared rapturously at the young woman singing.
The singer was introduced as “Lilian the Songbird” and her voice carried more than the flawless tune of My Memory of Tears, it brought up memories that Linsan had forgotten. She could almost smell the attic when she rediscovered Palisis and played those few stolen notes to her parent's surprise. In many ways, that was the beginning of her adventure and she was half a world away from that young girl.
Tears ran down her cheeks as she listened to the raven-haired beauty singing on the stage. It was impossible to move away even if she wanted to. Instead, she just smiled and let the memories wash through her mind.
When the song ended, Lilian gave a bow and wiped a tear from her eye.
“I wonder what she remembers when she sings that song,” asked a voice next to Linsan.
She jumped and looked to see an older woman looking up at the stage. The newcomer was her parents age, but had a beauty that held up against the advancement of years. When she looked at Linsan, there was a sadness pooled in her light brown eyes.
“W-What?” Linsan asked.
“Lilian always cries when she sings that song. You can feel the longing in her voice. But the images that well up in my mind are not hers, they're always mine. That her talent, to make you feel her songs with her heart. They call her one of Moon Water's treasures.”
“I saw… I remember being in my parent's attic. I was playing something I shouldn't have found.”
“Good memories then?”
Linsan smiled. “Yes, the best. Not at the time, but now? It was the best memory.”
The older woman turned and looked at her. “So, an actor?”
An icy grip ran down Linsan's spine. “What? I'm not an actor.”
“Yet you quoted both Bear's Hunt and Three Score in that little speech to keep your toy.” There was a sparkle in her eye as she turned her back to the stage. She had on a gold-trimmed dress in black. It was loose around the waist with a curved bustle and a generous amount of bared shoulder. “I'm guessing you were either an actor or a musician, but the musicians around here usually treats plays as below their station.”
She pursed her lips. “This city think plays are for the poor and unrefined, with shallow plots and actors who failed. They spend their time worshiping Tarsan classicals and the old master's styles.”
Fretting, Linsan looked around for Brook but couldn't find her friend.
“What about you? I haven't seen you at one of these affairs before. I'd remember a beauty like yours.”
Linsan froze. Was the old woman trying to seduce her? What if she had fallen into the very thing they were pretending had happened between Brook and herself? “I'm just here… with someone. I need to find her.”
Lilian stood back up to sing another song.
The older woman gestured toward the tables to the side. “Come on, we can find your friend better from the edges. No doubt she'll be at the center of attention, she's a beautiful girl.”
“She is.” Linsan spoke as she followed the other woman away from the press of people at the stage. It only took a few steps to get away but a longing to return rose up. She fought it, moving blindly in the wake of her sudden companion.
At the edge, the other woman sat down. “You can call me Jun.” It was a starkly informal of a name given the situation. Jun winked. Linsan couldn't help but think that she was still being seduced.
Linsan blushed. “W-We're not,” she stopped as she realized she was supposed to play something more intimate. “I mean, I'm here because she told me to come.”
“I doubt that. If you really didn't want to come, you wouldn't have.”
“I don't know, my lady. When Lady Kabisal asks, I have to listen, right?”
“Jun. And yes, you do. Because everyone knows musicians are like cats and no one is good enough to get a cat to sit on command.”
Linsan smirked. “The Sand Piper's Daughter.”
“Not a popular one in this area, but it was when I was your age.” Jun tapped the table. “Come on, let an old lady talk about something she missed.”
“You aren't old,” Linsan said with a bit more confidence. “You're as beautiful as the crystal freshly cut in the sun.”
“Oh, going more south and west this time. The Tension, a dreadful play about politics but that was a good line. The rest of it was mostly self-congratulating pride about conquering the native tribes of Tarsan.”
A servant stepped up and asked for drinks. Linsan said nothing as Jun ordered something for both of them. Then, as he left, she watched as Jun followed his movement with his eyes until he was out of sight before returning her attention to her.
“What is your favorite play, Lin?”
“I think I like—”
Jun held up her hand. “No, just pick one. Something that is appropriate for now. Right here.”
“I guess Tears on a Cat's Whiskers?” Nervous, she reached up to stroke her mother's pin. “No, Strangers in the Gale.”
Jun cocked her head. “Now, that is a play I haven't seen in a long time. It was actually here in town. The lead actress was so beautiful and wonderful, Tisin Sterlig.”
Linsan paled at her mother's name.
“They won an award that year. That was the last time I saw Tisin, you know.” Jun smiled and then dabbed the corner of her eye. “It was only a few years after I left her and she married my Marin's former husband and my best friend.”
Linsan's heart began to pound in her ears. A soft whimper rose up in her throat as she realized she was talking to her mother's former wife, Junith.
Junith smiled sadly but didn't look away from Linsan as she continued. “She had come up one week for an encore. She had a surprise for us, her newborn. I remember how happy she looked as she sat between the acts, nursing her newborn daughter. Sian gave her something I never could, something she always wanted.”
With everything spinning around her, Linsan felt sick to her stomach. In all the chaos and focus to get to Moon Waters, she never imagined that she would meet up with Junith. Shaking violently, she pushed herself up. “I-I-I have to go.”
Staggering away, she dove into a knot of people to escape Junith and clear her head. Tongue clicks and sniffs of disapproval followed her, but she cut across the main room to the far side before headed to the front door.
“Why am I crying?” she whispered to herself as she wiped her tears. She headed along the side until she spotted Brook in a cluster.
Her friend was laughing and joking, with one hand resting on the arm of a much older man wearing military ribbons. It was impossible to tell if she was acting or enjoying herself, but Linsan could see that Brook looked as if she belong among the rich.
Linsan started toward her but then noticed that she couldn't see Miska along the back wall. Frowning, she circled around the clusters of the rich and peered along the entire wall.
No Miska. No violin.
Still trembling from her encounter with Junith, Linsan spun around and hurried over to Brook. Coming up behind her, she rested her hand on Brook's hip and whispered into her ear, “Miska is gone.”
Brook inhaled sharply and then turned around. Her eyes widened as she looked along the wall and then took a step away.
“Something wrong, my dear?” asked the man with the ribbons.
“No, Lord Ruger. I was just looking for my servant. She was supposed to stand over there with her instrument case.” She pointed to Linsan.
One of the other people nearby leaned over. “Oh, the young lady in a red dress? She was escorted through that door into Lord Xasnal's private wing.”
The door had a guard standing in front of it, glaring at everyone. In front of them, a circle of empty space marked out five paces in all directions.
Linsan fought back a whimper. She looked back to Brook and then to peer around the room.
Brook sighed and made a show of rolling her eyes. “I better find her. Excuse me,” she said with a bow. Then she smiled brilliantly to Lord Ruger. “And it was wonderful hearing your stories, my lord.”
“Thank you for listening. Everyone else here just listens impatiently so they can tell their own stories and we all pretend we haven't heard them a thousand times.”
A ripple of polite, but uncomfortable, laughter.
Brook took Linsan's hand and headed straight for the door. “Sorry, I lost track of you.”
Brook hesitated. “What's wrong?”
“I met my mother's former wife.”
“Marin? I thought she died of cancer?”
“No, Junith. Marin had married my dad before they were divorced and then Junith and Marin got married.”
Brook blushed. “I remember that part.”
Linsan smiled uncomfortable. The night was not going the way she expected. She cleared her throat before they reached the door.
“Excuse me,” Brook said with her sweetest voice. “My servant was brought through her and I would like to know—”
“No admittance,” repeated the guard and flexed his thick arms over his chest. There was a finality in his voice.
Brook tugged Linsan away. “Shit, what do we do?”
Linsan looked at him and then back to her. “I-I don't know. I mean, we can't start a fight and I have no clue about the layout. Can we sneak in another entrance?”
Brook worried her lip. She looked torn.
Linsan rested her hand on Brook's arm. “Worried about Miska?”
At the nod, Linsan tried to give a comforting smile. “She'll be okay. This is Miska. She can punch her way through steel.”
“Ladies?” said Lord Rugar from near the door with the guard.
Confused, Linsan looked up to see him gesturing for Brook and herself.
Brook pointed to herself.
Lord Rugar looked at them both. “Now, I'm not entirely sure what is going on, but after so many years on the field, I know the look of two people scheming.”
The guard growled and clenched his arms.
He gave them a hard look. “You are also moving as if the winds were chasing you. So, what is your intent at this party. Are you here to steal the violin?”
“I would never steal Palisis!” Linsan snapped before she realized what she said. With a gasp, she clapped her glove hand over her mouth.
He raised an eyebrow. “Palisis is it? Rather unusual name for a young lady.”
“No, my lord,” Brook started. “Palisis is the name of the violin being sold today. Yes, we have an interest in the instrument but also the men who are selling it. We need to speak to Lord Xasnal or Tasire Dalisan about a most important matter.”
“And that is?” The lord's voice grew more tense.
Linsan glanced around.
Brook shrugged and gazed stonily back. “Something not appropriate to discuss in public.”
They locked stares.
Linsan squirmed but no one else seemed to notice.
Then the lord chuckled. He turned back to the guard. “Come on, let us through.”
“I'll watch over them. If you want, have someone join us but these two ladies have nothing to hide your master's silvers and I think they have a story I want to hear.”
Reluctantly, the guard unlocked the door and held it up.
The lord gestured for Brook and Linsan. He waited until Linsan pasted before coming up behind her a short distance. “After all, the only reason I'm here is to bid on the violin for a friend but I'm curious why a Sterlig has shown up personally for the sale.”
The door closed behind them with a firm snap of the lock.
Linsan inhaled, waiting for the next sentence.
“Call me Calor and tell me a new story.”