It is one thing to lie to the unwashed masses, to deceive the foolish public, and to scam those who don't know how to manage their money, but one does not lie to High Society. There is no anger that can be heated for as long as a slight on society's honor.
— Gandon Morelir
Linsan heard the kitchen long before they reached it. The sounds of raucous laughter and cheering beat against the walls. It sounded more like nights the village pub than the formal affair going in the main halls.
Calor guided them from behind, nodding as Brook gave an abbreviated version of their story. He didn't say anything, only listened.
Entering the kitchen area, Linsan saw Miska sitting at a table arm-wrestling with one of the guards. Her elegant dress had been hiked up to her thighs so she could straddled a scorched box. A few of the seams of the expensive outfit had burst open, revealing her tattoos stretched across her straining muscles.
The guard was also in poor shape, with his outfit ripped in places as he groaned and put all his weight into forcing Miska's hand back.
She grunted back with her effort to stop him. Sweat ran down her brow and neck as she gripped the table with her other hand. Woodsmoke rose up from where her grip had burned through the table cloth.
Surrounding them were a handful guards along with high society members wearing dresses of gold and silk. They were all cheering and throwing money down into a pair of metal bowls as they encouraged the two contestants.
Miska glanced up and then smiled as Brook entered the room. She gave a wink before turning her attention back to her efforts. “Time to give up.” Her voice was strained.
A blast of hot air exploded from her as she slammed him down. The effort collapsed the table underneath them and he fell back, tumbling backwards until he flipped face-down on the ground.
A cheer rose up as two people helped him up.
Miska rose with him. “Good game.”
For a moment, the losing man looked like he would say something rude but then he shook his head. He held out his hand. “I stand corrected.”
She grinned and patted his shoulder. “You did great. Against another man, you would have easily won.”
Playful laughter filled the room as Miska pushed her way to Brook and then pulled her into a passionate kiss.
Brook looked surprised but then melted into Miska's arms. A moan rose up between them.
Another round of cheer, this one far more enthusiastic than the first one.
Calor made a grunting noise. “You seem to have a lot of lesbians in your life, Lin.”
“Just my mother.”
“And Junith, Marin, those two. You lean that way? Have a fancy for peaches?”
“No, I just want to have friends I love and a chance to play.” She could feel her cheeks warming and tried to tamp them down.
“Speaking of which….” Calor held up his hand. “Sop! A minute?”
On the far side of a kitchen, an old man with a cane looked up from his wine. Then he gestured for Calor.
Calor tugged Linsan by the elbow across the room. “Come on, let's talk to Lord Xasnal.”
Lord Xasnal was about eighty years old with a heavy cane under one hand and a droop to his face. He looked tired as he finished pushing the money he had apparently bet on Miska to a young woman standing next to him. “Calor,” he said. “What brings you down? Your wife chase you away?”
“No, Rose is at home with the boys. I'm here for Junith.”
The older man groaned and shook his head. “Damn the Couple, that woman is sticking her fingers everywhere. She's got at least three others to ask me to stop the auction ever since it was announced.”
“Of course not. She has a history with the violin, but sob stories only add spice to the bidding and bumps up the price.” There was a hardness in his voice.
Any hope Linsan had started to crumble.
He looked at her. “And this is…?”
Calor held up a finger. “Sorry, my manors. Linsan, this is Lord Sopenar Xasnal. His family has been in Moon Waters for almost four centuries and he owns the fine establishment that we currently stand in.”
Sopenar tilted his head.
“And this is Linsan Sterlig, a young lady with a name shared with the item being sold.”
The old man's eyes sharpened on Linsan.
Linsan cleared her throat as her skin crawled. She steeled herself before she answered, “My father was Sian Sterlig, he crafted Palisis when I was young. I… I named it.”
He stared at her for a long moment, before he coughed. And then coughed again. When he stopped, he shook his head. “Junith has been trying to stop this sale ever since it was announced. I never thought she could convince a Sterlig across the country.”
“I'm trying to stop it because Siam would never have allows that violin to leave his family! I never asked for her to come here!” snapped Junith as she strode across the room. Brook and Miska followed with curious looks. “There is a Sterlig here on the eve of its sale. There has to be a reason beside my own.”
Calor slid his arm around Junith's waist. “There is. Palisis was stolen and a man murdered in the process.”
Junith gasped and looked at him. “M-Murdered?”
Brook held up her hand. “My daddy, Dukan Kabisal. The three men selling it burned him alive. I-I have the investigation papers.”
Around them, the kitchen grew silent.
Pop's gaze slid back to Linsan. “Well? Are you trying to stop the sale?”
Linsan felt the pressure of attention but she steeled herself. Drawing up, she remembered how her mother always looked at the audience and mimicked it. “Yes, my lord. It was stolen from us.”
Lord Xasnal groaned and shook his head. He pointed to Junith. “A gut feeling.”
His finger gestured to Brook. “A claim.”
“Excuse me—!” started Brook angrily.
He pointed to Miska. “Papers that cannot be confirmed from across the country.”
Finally his finger gestured to Linsan. “A birthright that cannot be verified. These are all reasons, but they aren't enough. You could be working for someone who needs more time to come up with more money, a scheme to steal from me, or something else.”
He drew himself up straighter. “I need proof. Something I can see with my own eyes, something that I can confirm. I've been hosting these auctions for many years and I've been tricked, lied, and deceived more times than you have stepped on the earth. I have lost millions, so I need something rock-solid.”
Linsan ducked her head and fought back the tears.
“Tears don't move me, girls. The sale goes on and I will not allow you to disrupt my honor.”
Thinking furiously, Linsan tried to think of some line, some play that would convince him. But they felt hallow and empty at the moment, nothing was appropriate.
Sopenar shook his head. “I'm sorry your violin was stolen and your father killed. But that was somewhere far away and outside of my domain. Good evening.”
He limped forward the door.
Linsan cleared her throat. There was one thing that she hadn't told anyone, a trivial thing but it was the last thing left to her. “Palisis has been played before,” she said quietly.
Sopenar stopped but didn't turn back.
“I played it, in my parent's attic. It isn't a virgin.” She sniffed. “I didn't know it wasn't supposed to be at the time, but my parents decided to not tell anyone just in case we had to sell it.”
The silence pressed down on the room, stifling the air as it settled into place.
Everyone stared at Sopenar, waiting for his response.
He turned his head so he was looking at her. “But what are you?”
“An instrument is played by the one who created it, to tune and adjust it. It is a mother's touch for her daughter, not a lover's embrace. So I ask you, what are you?”
Linsan sniffed and then nodded. “Yes, I am the daughter of Sian Sterlig. My blood runs through the veins of the wood that gave birth to Palisis. My hand helped him carve and shape it. I named it, so I might be his mother.”
She took a deep breath. “But I am also the daughter of Tisin Sterlig, the queen of the stage and I have played her songs and roles my entire life. I have been in her shadow except for when I play. I have only set my bow on his strings as one who loves the song more than anything else.”
Sopenar slowly turned. “Prove it.”
“H-How, my lord.”
He pointed to the violin case that was once again in Miska's hand. “Play me a song that only the daughter of Tisin would know. Give me a song that has never been on a stage or sung in the world.”
Linsan frowned as she tore through her memory, casting through the history of her parents. She teased the pin in her hair. “There is no…” she glanced at Junith who was crying. Then she remembered the sheet music in the case, the torn paper with a single song she had never heard of before. “Safe Adventures, Our Departed Loves.”
Junith inhaled sharply.
Sopenar cocked his head. “I'm surprised you know that song. I thought there was only one copy ever made. Your father was very insistent on that.”
Linsan worried her lip as she retrieved her violin.
Brook stopped her. “Are you sure? You know this song?”
Linsan shook her head. “I saw it once, years ago. I've never played it but I think I remember the melody.”
“Oh, Couple.” Brook buried her head against Miska.
“I have to try,” Linsan felt on the edge of tears herself. “I have to.”
She set her bow and then brought up the faded memories. The first few bars were easy to remember but she had only looked at the first page. She worked the song in her head but then realized it wasn't enough.
Fear raced through her veins.
“I'm waiting.” Sopenar looked at her intently.
Her heart fluttered. In her mind, she tried to guess the next measures of the song. Little fragments from her past rose up: her mother humming a strange song while she did her makeup, or the way her father arranged his music, and even the way the notes naturally fell off the bow strings.
Linsan answered with clear notes filling the kitchen. It was unsteady at first from her nervousness but she regained her nerves by the end of the second measure. It took her only precious seconds to reach the end of her knowledge. Desperate not to see him acknowledge a failure, she closed her eyes and let the music flow.
She dragged her toe along the floor and then ducked her body with her song. She didn't need to see to avoid the tables and counters, they were just part of her dance as she spun and swayed with the ballad.
Gasps rose up.
Linsan cracked open one eye to see smiles across from her. Motes of power and ripples of energy radiated from her body, swirling with the same movements as her body.
She let her gaze rake the room. There were more smiles and looks of joy and wonder on the faces of the guards and society alike. Sopenar had a faint smile on his lips as he rocked his body in time with the music spun from her bow.
Linsan let her attention focus on him and finished the song, filling the room with music and ripples of power before pulling the bow away. The last note hung in the air, sparkling with energy, before it faded like embers into the night.
Junith let out a sob from where she had her face buried into Calor's shoulder. Her pale hands trembled as she knuckled his shirt.
Brook and Miska held each other and watched her with glistening eyes and bright smiles. They looked terrified and in awe at the same time.
There were others. Some started to applaud her, others were not moving as they seeped in their own thoughts.
Every breath was attenuated as she turned back to the lord. “My lord?”
“Close but not quite.”
Her shoulders lumped. “I'm sorry, it was a long—”
He held up his hand and her voice trailed off. “Linsan Sterlig, that was not entirely the song that your father had written. I remember the opening notes intimately, but the others were not. Where did the rest come from?”
“I… I guess what my dad would have written knowing my mother's ability. I assumed it was sung by her as Junith and Marin left.”
He turned away.
Linsan's hope faltered and she fought back her own sorrow.
“No, it was when your parents left, not the other way around. They are all stars in Moon Waters but your father's mother fell sick and he had to return to Cobbler's End. We always assumed Marin would go with him, but then everyone was surprised when our four stars of Moon Waters—”
He looked at Junith and held out his hand.
She reached out to take it and squeeze it.
“—split in unexpected ways. With hindsight, it was obvious how they had cleaved but it was that song that the four announced the decision.” He smiled warmly to Junith. “A single song that played to the back stage of the final showing of Strangers in the Gale. Only the actors, the band, and those honored by granting patronage were able to hear it.”
The room was silent.
He turned back to Linsan. “I thought I would never hear it again in any form. You have honored your father's memory, your mother's kill, and proven that you have talents that shine among theirs.”
“Fuck me,” gasped Miska.
Linsan tried to clear her suddenly dry throat. “T-Thank you, my lord.”
Sopenar's eyes hardened. “Do you swear you played Palisis?”
Linsan wiped her eyes. “Yes, my lord.”
“That I can verify.” There was no smile or humor from him as he turned to the young woman serving him. “Summon Tir Nolig with all haste. She will be packing up to leave if she hasn't left already. I will give you one bell to return with her.”
“Yes, my lord.” She bowed deeply before running out of the room.
The lord ordered another servant to bring the city guards who had talked to Brook to the auction house, but through the side door.
Finally, he addressed Linsan directly. “You have earned the opportunity to prove yourself. I will delay the sale for one bell and not a minute longer. If Nolig can verify your claim, then I will halt everything and have the men selling it detained until a full investigation can take place. Failing that, you will suffer consequences no matter what blood you claim.”
Linsan nodded and let out a gasp of relief. “Thank you, my lord.”
“Come on, I need to make the announcement before the hammer falls.”