The cheap busker moved from inn to inn, always looking for the next crown and a new story to tell.
— Horgoek Ladow, Never Stop Falling, Never Stop Playing
Linsan stepped out from the village store and struggled to keep disappointment from her face. As the door closed behind her with a click, she looked up at the reds and oranges that had spread across the sky since she went inside. There wasn’t enough time to get to the next village before nightfall.
She took a few more steps to clear the door and glanced around. The village wasn’t large. It had the general store behind her, a woodworking shop, and a public house that had just put out the sign for the night. She couldn’t image there were more than twenty people in the village.
With a sigh, she headed toward the public house. At the door, she peered inside. “Hello?”
An older man looked up from pushing chairs into place. “A new face?” He smiled broadly. “Oh, welcome to Gainsburg!”
Linsan stepped inside. “Thank you.”
His eyes dropped down then he made a face. “I can’t do much for buskers. Neither of us are going to make enough to cover your room much less food.” His eyes scanned over her. “You probably eat like a horse, right?”
With a sigh, he shook his head. “This place ain’t big enough for you with a fancy tool like that.”
Linsan couldn’t help but be disappointed. Much of her fantasies were about playing and dancing her way across the country. She flicked the lock on her case and turned to leave.
The innkeeper groaned. “You need food?”
Linsan’s stomach rumbled. She nodded and came back. “I can pay.”
“You can use that? It’s just not because you feel pretty carrying it around?”
“I can play and dance. I’m good at both.” She couldn’t help but bristle at his words but snapping at him wouldn’t help her situation.
She shook her head.
“Five crowns and I’ll feed you dinner and something on the way in the morning. You busk and get five paying people in here before the sun hides and I’ll give it back.”
It was a pathetic amount of money, but she nodded. It was cheaper than paying full price. “Could I also get a place to sleep?”
“Thirty for a room, ten to sleep in the basement but I lock you in to keep you from stealing.”
A shiver ran down her spine at the last suggestion. She shook her head. “A-A cheap room.”
He grunted and tapped a table. “Sit here and put your money down. Everything up front for strangers.”
She stepped into the room and came over to the table. Watching the innkeeper, she waited until he wasn’t looking and then eased her wallet out to pull thirty-five crowns out in paper bills.
When he didn’t come back, she nervously looked around. It was an empty room. Unsure of what to do, she set her case on the table and ran her fingers along the latches to open them. Reaching in, she eased the violin out and moved the case to the floor.
The Sterlig was old, beaten, and well-used. It was an instrument that had played for countless plays and shows. The edges were scuffed and scratched.
It was beautiful.
She ran her fingertips along the neck and up to the screws. With one hand, she gently plucked the strings while adjusting the screws. The clear tones rose up around her, flutters of noise that caused the edges of her vision to dance.
“That’s an old tool there. Older than you?” The innkeeper set down a plate of steaming food. It was thick and meaty with a small pool of juices at the bottom.
Linsan thanked him and then said, “Yes. My grandfather made it a long time ago.”
“You know, there was a family of instrument makers about five leagues to the west. They had some tragedy but that thing reminds me of the ones they brought around.”
“Sterlig?” Linsan looked up curiously.
The innkeeper frown for a moment and then nodded to himself. “That sounds right! Yes, it was the Sterlig Family. Right famous for fifty years. Then something bad happened.”
It was surreal listening to someone talk about her family’s fortunes without knowing the full story. Linsan had grown up during the experience and knew many of the intimate details, but the innkeeper was a stranger. She wavered on the idea of revealing her heritage, but then decided to keep it silent.
She looked at the plate and then the violin.
“Eat some, it will get greasy if you wait.”
After thanking him, she ate quickly.
“You know, the younger of those Sterligs got himself married to this really pretty gal. She was top billing on some plays.” The innkeeper sighed. “I remember seeing her in this show about a living plant that wants to touch the moon.”
”Reaches for the Stars Unknown,” Linsan said automatically.
The innkeeper frowned at her and then chuckled. “Watching her on stage is what made me a man.” He took her empty bowl and left her some fresh bread, cheese, and water. “Prettiest girl I had ever seen.”
With conversation growing uncomfortable, Linsan carefully set her pack down and propped her violin up on her chin. She took a deep breath before drawing the bow across.
The clear harmony filled the public house and resonated against the walls. In the corner of her vision, the world seemed to flutter and an invisible breeze plucked at the curtains in the window. She could feel her energy rising up to the music but she didn’t let it manifest beyond little eddies of wind.
She smiled, adjusted the violin, and then started on a song from her mother’s play, A Hundred Years Reaching, which was a cheerful ditty from the first act of Reaches for the Stars Unknown.
The innkeeper’s head rose up slowly until he was staring at the ceiling. There was a look of happiness on his wrinkled face and his eyes no longer focused.
She smiled to herself and played louder, shifting out of her seat to sway in time with the music. Her boots scuffed on the ground as she twirled around, letting the music rise up inside her and fill the room.
Linsan finished one song and moved into the other. As she did, she kept an eye on the door leading into the place. It was getting dark but no one had come in.
Disappointed, she finished one song and picked another one about coming out from the rain. It was a popular tune about twenty-five years ago, her parents loved to hum it when they were out walking together. With a smile, she threw herself into the song.
The song filled the main hall. She pranced to the door to let it out across the village.
No one was in sight.
Linsan worried for a moment but then decided to let herself just get lost in the song. She half-closed her eyes and swayed around with the melody.
The innkeeper seemed to enjoy himself. His head bobbed in time with the music as he prepared for business.
Then a scuff of a boot caught Linsan’s attention. She turned to see an old woman staggering up the stairs of the public house. Her cane wavered with every step as she half-walked, half-fell into the main room and slumped into the nearest chair. “Bil!”
“Coming!” he said as he delivered a good-sized beer to her. When he served the old woman, he gave Linsan an approving nod before moving to another patrons who was coming in the door.