the-violin by rhiem

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                                THE VIOLIN

                              by Peter Birk

                             Copyright @2012
                           Smashwords Edition


The Violin is a short story which takes place within the setting for my novel,
To Trust the Wolf, which is currently available as an ebook. If the story
interests you, please visit for more information about the
world, the books and other items. Salud!
When I was a little girl, I dreamed of becoming a witch. I would climb up
and sit on the fence at the back of the Red Cloak garrison and watch them
drill. I would pester our village’s magister about magic, about witches,
about how they ruled the world. She wouldn’t tell me much about magic or
about witches, but she told me about the world, about the wars, about how
the Coven had saved us all, how we were all working together to build a
prophesied Golden Age which was just on the horizon.

She wouldn’t teach me how to read. Books are dangerous, she taught us.
Only witches were taught how to read. The demons can gain control of your
mind through books. Just one person reading the wrong book can invoke a
demon, and plunge us all into darkness once again. Only witches are strong
enough to resist the demons, so only witches are taught to read.

I knew I was a witch. I was the only one in my class who truly knew what it
took to be one: the faith; the commitment; the sheer belief in the power of
magic. She taught us that magic is the witch’s will exerted on the world,
and if that is true, then no one willed themselves to be a witch harder than

I even knew a witch. My best friend Babette’s older sister’s talent had
manifested, and she did her apprentice training with the magister. She was
accepted into the Order of Light, and left for Touloon, but she accidentally
left behind her reading primer. I found it while Babette and I were playing in
their house. I ran my fingers over the leather cover and along the edges of
the pages, and before I knew it, I had tucked it under my shirt, told Babette
I had to get home, and raced through the back streets to our house.

I hid it under my mattress. It took weeks of pulling it out and running my
fingers along it each night before I finally had the courage to open it. Each
morning I would wake up early and sneak the book into the outhouse,
studying its pages until someone banged on the door. After I had conquered
                                                         Birk / THE VIOLIN / 2

my initial wonder and made sure that I had not become a demon, I started
studying it.

It took me a while to realize that the primer was in Latin, not French. It was
close enough that I could sort of muddle through, and I started hanging out
at the garrison more, listening, trying to absorb the witches’ speech.
Between the book and my listening in on the Red Cloaks going through their
drills at the garrison, I taught myself Latin and reading, two skills I was sure
would help me when I joined the Red Cloaks myself.

A girl around my age, Lisel, had her talent manifest in school during a fight
with another student. They were shoving each other back and forth, when
suddenly Lisel threw him across the schoolyard. He hit the ground so hard
that he was knocked out and broke his shoulder. Lisel was so overwhelmed
that she became hysterical, and Dame Ladue, the village White Cloak, had
to tend to them both. I was surprised, because Lisel had seemed to be the
least magical person I knew.

A week or so later, we had a visitor at school— a witch with a dark green
cloak, green like the moss you find on the side of the logs near the creek.
Our magister introduced her as the examiner, the one who would find the
rest of the witches in our grade whose talent had not yet manifested. The
testing would begin the next day.

That night I couldn’t sleep, I was so excited. Finally, the moment of truth.
The moment where I would become a witch. She would find my hidden
talent and bring it forth, and then everyone would know what I had known
all along, that I had magic, that I was special, that one day I too would save
the world with my power, just like the witches in the stories.

I had never made it to school so early before. I had the door to the
schoolhouse open and I was sweeping it out when our magister and the
examiner arrived. They smiled and nodded when I asked if I could be
examined now, before school. I just couldn’t wait anymore.

The examiner led me into the back room, where the magister kept her small
office. An ornate rug had been spread across the floor, and in the middle
was a small brass censer. The examiner made me sit on the rug, and then
sat opposite the censer from me. She pulled something from the pouch at
her belt and put it in the censer, then held her hand over it for a second,
murmuring. Soon the censer started smoking, and I felt a tingling as the
hairs on my arms stood on end. Magic.

She told me to close my eyes and relax. I kept my eyes shut, but I was full of
nervous energy. She kept talking to me slowly, softly, telling me to listen to
her low, murmuring voice. My arms and legs felt heavy, like I was a puppet
                                                         Birk / THE VIOLIN / 3

whose strings had been cut. Then she was in my mind.

We stood together in my room at home, the room I shared with my little
brother. I was embarrassed by the clutter and mess, and I looked up at her
to apologize. She towered over me, filling the room, making me feel like a
child. She began looking through my room, asking me questions, had I ever
had a vivid dream, had anything strange ever happened. I watched her as
she picked through my things and I realized she was looking for my magic. It
was now or never, so I willed myself to be magic. I wished so hard I think I
sprained something. I looked up and she was staring at me. She asked me
what I was doing. I told her I was a witch and I was willing my magic to shine
through. She shook her head. “Sophie,” she said, “You’re not a witch. You
have no magic.”

I shattered like a pane of glass. I crumpled to the floor, sobbing. She knelt
down next to me and put an arm around me, telling me that witches are
rare, that chances were no one else in my class would be a witch. I cried
harder, because she didn’t understand, and then she said, “Sophie, what’s

She was holding the book, my primer, which glowed in a faint golden light,
the letters making up the title, Gramatica Latinae, dancing slightly to and
fro. My sorrow froze into fear as she opened it and I saw my thoughts
forming words and sentences across the page, writing what I was thinking.
She looked at me in amazement. “Sophie, you can read?”

Suddenly, we were kneeling together in the magister’s office, the witch
leaning forward with her hand on my shoulder. “Is it true, Sophie?”

I nodded, the tears starting to trickle down my cheeks again. She asked me
how, and I told her, the sobs welling up through my story, and then I was
apologizing and asking her what would happen to me. She hugged me tight
until my tears slowed and stopped, and then told me it would be our little
secret, but that I shouldn’t let anyone else know that I could read. Above
all, I had to swear to her, by the Light and the Coven, that I would never try
to read a book again.

My schooling ended that year, along with everyone else my age. None of the
rest of them were witches either, but that gave me little comfort. It was
time for us to learn a trade. The village needed carpenters and
woodworkers, so that was where I was placed.

Things went quietly for a couple of years. I learned my trade and was put to
work making everything from houses to furniture. It was interesting work,
using my hands and my head, measuring and using the math we’d been
taught in school. It beat being sent out to work the fields or the forests like
                                                         Birk / THE VIOLIN / 4

many of my schoolmates.

Then one spring a powerful storm drove through the village, and a gnarled
old oak next to the garrison split and fell into the side of the building. I had
to help fell the tree and then repair the damaged wall. I followed a Red
Cloak up to the room on the second floor that the tree had cracked open. I
remember standing in the open doorway, my heart leaping into my throat.

It was a small room, but the walls were lined with bookcases. The air was
filled with the musty smell of paper and leather, even though sunlight and
fresh air were trickling in through the rend in the exterior around the
massive branch of the oak. In the middle of the floor lay a pile of soggy
books that had been damaged by the storm. Part of my job was to crate
them up and take them to the back of the garrison, where eventually they
would be shipped to the Order of Lore for repair and rebinding.

After showing me what needed to be done, the Red Cloak left me alone with
the books. I stood in silence for a moment, listening to the Red Cloak’s
footsteps disappear down the hall, my heart hammering against my chest.
Once I was sure she was gone, I quickly knelt down and started flipping
through them. I was excited when I saw how much I could still make out,
despite not having seen a book in years. A lot of the books were in languages
I’d never seen before— even though I could read the characters, the words
made no sense. Some, though, were in Latin, mostly books on magic and
spells, on defense and tactics, on the histories of the families of the region.
Some of the words I didn’t know, but I knew enough to make things out in

Reluctantly, I put the books down and started crating them up. A Red Cloak
could walk in at any moment, and I didn’t want to get caught. Once the
books were crated up, I started working on the tree, cutting up the branch
so that we could cart it out. After a while one of my co-workers and I
carried the crate around to the back of the garrison, off the alley near the
stables, and then we started working on the tree itself, clearing it so we
could repair the building. It had gotten dark by the time we were done, and
as I was walking home, I walked by the crate. I looked around to see if
anyone was looking, but no one was near. I went up to the crate, popped
the top and grabbed one of the books written in Latin. It would be a while
until they were shipped out, I reasoned, so I had time to read it and return
it, and no one would be the wiser.

After dinner, I excused myself as soon as I could. I told my folks I was tired
from work and needed to go to bed right away, but then I snuck out of my
window and into the barn with the book, the primer and a candle. The book
was a history of Marie Chenault, the Gran Mater, detailing how she rode
with the wolves during the Bellum Mammonum, rode with Ysengrim on the
                                                         Birk / THE VIOLIN / 5

assault on Moloch, the living stronghold in the desert, rode down into the
depths of the screaming machine and destroyed the heart of the demons to
free us from their curse forever. A lot of it I didn’t understand, and a lot of
the words were beyond the range of my primer, but it didn’t stop me from
sitting up in the barn night after night.

My père apparently became suspicious that I was seeing Henri Ribeau. Henri
and I used to be friends. We’d grown up together, gone to school together,
played together in the fields around the village, and had been assigned into
the carpentry trade together. We were now working together everyday.

One night we were lying on our backs in a field by my house, looking up at
the stars. We were talking, just idly chatting. I remember being aware of
how close he felt, our shoulders and arms touching. I felt nervous and

We started kissing. It was nice at first, but then he became more insistent,
and I got uncomfortable and pushed him away. We lay there for a while,
staring at each other, then he said he was tired and wished me good night.
After that, we were awkward and uncomfortable around each other. I think
he went out of his way to avoid me.

Marie Chenault, I learned, fought so often with her husband Gustave in
public that most believed she had no love for him. Their arguments in the
Consiligm over the Lycanis Problem were bitter and caustic. Their servants
gossiped of chill silences punctuated by screaming fights. Yet when he was
ambushed by wolves and killed, she took up his cause and became the
leader of the movement to constrain the wolves, where before she had been
their staunch supporter and ally. When questioned in the Consiligm about
her dramatic shift in stance, she merely replied, “He was my husband, and I
loved him.” She would go on to lead the Red Cloaks into a war with the
wolves that nearly tore Raioume apart.

I didn’t feel that way for Henri. I had never felt that way for anyone. The
whole thing confused me.

My père didn’t know about Henri and the kissing and the cold silence that
was between us, but he knew I was acting strange. I wasn’t getting a lot of
sleep, so I started trying to sneak in reading sessions during the day. I was
constantly making up excuses to be out of the house, and was haunting all of
the solitary nooks and crannies in our small village.

One night, when I had snuck out after going to bed early, my père came up
to ask me something and found that I was gone. He caught me in the barn,
thinking he would find me with Henri. Instead, he found me with the book.
                                                         Birk / THE VIOLIN / 6

I had grown up thinking that my père was the nicest, sweetest man in all of
Raioume, who would love me to the end, so I was unprepared for the sheer
terror in his eyes when he saw that I was reading a book. He called for the
guard, backing away from me and holding up his hands to defend himself. I
tried to explain, but as I got up, his hands curled into fists, and he yelled at
me not to move. My father was about to strike me for the first time in my
life. The shock hit me harder than a punch to the stomach.

Fortunately, the guard on watch arrived then. My father stumbled
backwards as she strode into the barn, yelling, “It’s her! Stop her!” She took
the book from me, looked at it, then looked at me. She bound me by the
Covenant and took me back to the garrison. I tried to talk to my père as
they led me away, but he wouldn’t meet my eye. I would never see him

The garrison commander made me read a part of the book out loud to her.
She told me this was very serious. I was going to be sent to the prison mines
at Benton until I was ready for rehabilitation. I started crying.

Then she asked me, “Do you have remorse for the crime which you have
committed against the Covenant?” And I sobbed, “Yes, yes, yes.”

“Stop sniffling,” she said. “The cat is out of the box, and we can’t put it
back in. There is a way you can prove your remorse to the Coven and be
returned to the fold.”

The wagon train had arrived, and the crate of books had been loaded on it.
When the wagons rolled out of the village the next morning, I was loaded
next to it. I left the place I’d known for all of my sixteen years, and quickly
found myself further away from home than I’d ever been before.

The train took me to Inverness, the seat of the Order of Lore. The village
nestles around the fortress, which sits along the banks of the Mupiscah as it
winds its way though the wooded northern hills. Within the fortress, the
crate and I were unloaded before the Bibliothecae, the library of the Grey
Cloaks. On its many shelves sits a copy of every book known to exist,
including the Tabularium, the archive of works that survived the Bellum

The Bibliothecae actually consists of a collection of low buildings, hastily
constructed and connected together. I was led along a series of twisting
passages lined with books to a small workshop in the back. There I was
handed over to a young witch, Pierre-Louis Lefèvre.

“Ah,” he smiled. “You must be the carpenter. We have a unique task in
front of us.”
                                                        Birk / THE VIOLIN / 7

He produced a book and placed it on the table in front of me. “Go ahead,”
he said. “Open it.”

It was filled with plans and instructions, diagrams and details. It seemed to
be about building a small box about the shape of the number eight, and then
attaching an arm with some strings across it. I flipped through it and then
looked up at him.

“It’s called a violin,” he said. “It’s a musical instrument that was used
before the Great War. We have reams of music that we’ve never been able
to reproduce because none of them survived. But we have this book. And we
have your skills. And we have this workshop.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“Sophie,” he replied, “We need you to make a violin.”

I was taught how to read and speak Latin and French, properly, though I had
done most of it on my own. Pierre-Louis was a patient teacher. I impressed
him with how much I had learned by myself. I would spend the morning
working in the workshop, building prototypes, trying to learn techniques,
but the afternoons Pierre-Louis reserved for language and reading.

And so the weeks passed, and I couldn’t have been happier. Not only was I
doing a task for the Coven, but I was basking in the attention of a handsome
young witch. To be specific, Pierre-Louis was an enchanter, a witch with the
talent of imbuing material items with magical properties. He was good with
his hands, and as eager to talk about carpentry with me as I was to talk
about magic with him.

In my downtime I was allowed to peruse the library, within limits. I would
ask Pierre-Louis for a book on a subject, and the next day he would bring
one to me. I was fascinated by the histories, particularly those of the early
days of Raioume, after the demons had been driven away. I had never
thought about how hard it would have been to create the society I had
grown up within from whole cloth.

As my wood-working skills grew, my prototypes began to look more and
more like the violins in the diagrams and pictures. One day Pierre-Louis
came into the workshop beaming, a large flat book in his hands.

“I found it, Sophie.” He couldn’t stop chuckling as he laid it before me. It
was a manual on playing the violin, how to hold it, how to get it to produce
sound, what notes were what. And it was written in French! My last few
prototypes had been playable, but the screeching sounds they produced had
                                                       Birk / THE VIOLIN / 8

put us off. The power of books overwhelmed me as I realized that we might
be able to reconstitute a lost art because it had been preserved in text.

Pierre-Louis brought some sheet music, and the two of us started learning to
play the violin. He had some musical training, and had an ear for notes. We
would stay up late in the night, trying to play. Eventually our heads would
fill with words and music, and we’d sit by the small fireplace, sipping tea
and talking about anything but violins and music.

That was when he told me about his wife, about how their marriage had
been arranged when they were young, a union devised and divined by the
augurs to deliver magical progeny. For ten years they had been wed, but
still had not produced a child.

“But you do love her,” I asked, my thoughts filled with the story of Marie
Chenault and the death of Gustave. He sighed and looked at me for a long
while. “I am afraid I am falling in love with another,” he said.

I got flustered, nearly dropped my tea, and stammered something about
being tired. He just looked at me, then nodded and wished me good night as
I excused myself.

I tried hard to act like nothing had happened the next couple of days as we
worked alongside one another, but it was hard to focus. Whenever he wasn’t
around I kept finding myself thinking about him, and when he was next to
me I tried very hard to ignore the thoughts that went racing through my
head. He was incredibly patient, telling me not to worry when I ruined the
next two prototypes. While his kindness was nice, it didn’t help.

Then one morning a grey-cloaked witch came into the workshop while I was
fitting the body of the violin. It took me a moment to curtsy because I was
busy tightening the joints and couldn’t stop or else the body would come
apart. Rising from my curtsy, I glanced in her eyes, and knew from years of
school that I was in trouble.

“You are the carpenter?” she asked. I nodded and looked down at the floor.

“Look at me,” she said curtly, and obediently I looked up at her. Her face
was calm, placid. She was younger than I thought she would be, younger
than Pierre-Louis, and she carried herself with such authority and power
that I felt like a child in her presence. I thought she was beautiful.

“Do not act dumb,” she said. “I know you’re quite intelligent. You wouldn’t
be here if you weren’t.”

She walked around me, looking at the violin in its brace on the work table.
                                                       Birk / THE VIOLIN / 9

“I came to tell you two things.” She leaned over the body, looking at it
closely. “I don’t care if you sleep with him. The gossip is that you already
are,” she looked up at me, “but I don’t think so.”

She looked back down at the body. “I don’t care. Sleep with him. I hope you
enjoy it more than I do, but that would not be wishing you very much.” She
looked up and locked eyes with me. “At the very least, have the decorum to
pretend you are having fun.”

I swallowed hard, realizing my mouth was suddenly dry. I could barely feel
my hands. I didn’t know what to say. We looked at each other a moment,
and then she turned to go.

“What,” I managed to choke out, “What was the other thing?”

She stopped at the door but didn’t turn around. “You are probably aware of
this already, but there are those among the gossipers who see you as
something of a talking dog.”

She then turned and looked at me, a sly grin on her face. “A mundane who
can read,” they say. “How fantastic. Almost as if they believe that
mundanes are too stupid to know how to read.”

The grin faded. “Too bad we both know that isn’t true.”

Then she left. I wandered around the work table, wringing my hands. Fear,
anger and sheer excitement coursed through me, my thoughts racing and my
limbs quivering. I went up onto the battlements, bummed a pipe and a pinch
of smoke from a guard, and wandered up and down the wall, looking out
onto the fog trickling through the hills thickly draped with tall evergreens.

After I’d calmed down, I went back down to the workshop. Pierre-Louis was
bent over the body. “Sophie,” he said without looking up, “This looks
marvelous.” I came up behind him, and put my hand on his back. He
straightened up and looked at me. “Sophie?” he asked.

I leaned in and kissed him. I melted into him, lightning racing up my spine.
The hairs on my arms stood on end. Magic, I thought.

After we became lovers, everything suddenly started flowing into place. The
latest prototype produced a pleasant sound, which was new for us. I started
to learn to play it, Pierre-Louis coaching me through reading the music. Our
days were spent with music; our nights with each other.

Then one morning he came in, his face ashen. “Sophie,” he said. “You are to
                                                       Birk / THE VIOLIN / 10

play the violin for the Gran Mater.”

I laughed. “I will, when I’ve learned how to do so.”

He shook his head. “No,” he said. “You’re to play for her now.”

I was to leave when the wagon train arrived tomorrow. We practiced all day,
going over and over it, me playing the piece, him correcting me, over and
over, through the night and into the next morning. Exhausted, I realized I
had to pack, not just myself, but the violin.

With my bag over my shoulder and the violin wrapped in cloth like a child
nestled against my chest, I approached the wagon train. Pierre-Louis walked
next to me, giving me last minute advice.

“Remember, it ends softly,” he said.

I was tired, groggy. “I know,” I said.

“Sophie, this is important. You need to pay attention.”

“I know it’s important. I know that it ends softly.”

“Sophie, just because you learned to read a little doesn’t mean…” He
trailed off as he looked at the horror spreading across my face.

“Doesn’t mean what?” I held up the violin towards him. “I made this. I
learned how to play this.” I pulled it back to my chest, and stepped
backwards away from him.

“Sophie, come here,” he snapped.

I glared at him, then spun on my heel and started walking towards the

“Sophie,” he barked. “Sophie, come back here this instant.”

I kept walking.

“Fine,” he said. “Go ahead. When you trip and fall walking in shoes too big
for you and ruin it for both of us, when they send you back to that middle of
nowhere village that bore you, just remember which one of us turned and
walked away.”

“Which carriage?” I asked the wagon master. He looked over my shoulder at
Pierre-Louis, looked at me, then nodded towards the carriage in the lead.
                                                       Birk / THE VIOLIN / 11

I opened the carriage door. Three mundanes in the carriage looked up and
gave me a weary smile as they made room for me. The Grey Cloak sitting in
the corner didn’t look up from his book, or move. I sighed and settled in as
best I could, clutching the violin to my chest.

The wagon train sped through the night to Orleans, where we were unloaded
and then placed on a different train which whisked through the early
morning dawn to Holcomb. I was exhausted, but too nervous to sleep. On
the edge of Holcomb, we were loaded into small carriages for the final ride
to Manz and the Tower of Law. My tired eyes widened as I stepped off the
wagon train and saw the black, twisted trees of the Wolfwood before me.

The carriage crept through the dark and tangled forest, the trees pressing
close to our windows. I held the violin close to my chest, and placed all of
my hope in the Light that we would make it to Manz safely.

I felt small and stupid as we pulled through the city gates. I’d never seen so
many people before, bustling about and doing things I could only imagine.
The canvas upon which I painted my world was being pulled in too many
directions at once as I struggled to fit it all in, and I could feel the edges
fray and start to tear.

We pulled into the courtyard of the Bastille. I stepped down from the
carriage, looking up wide-eyed at the Tower of Law rising over the
courtyard. Red-cloaked witches scuttled back and forth across the
cobblestones. The girl I had once been had dreamed of becoming one of
them, of coming to this Tower to practice magic for this Order. I looked
down at the violin that I clutched to my chest and I started to shake. Who
did I think I was, to be here?

“You are Sophie?” A voice asked behind me. I turned to see a slender, grey-
haired witch, her red cloak lined with black and gold trim falling over her
shoulders. I nodded. She smiled. “Welcome to the Tower of Law. My name is
Rene. I’m here to take you to see the Gran Mater.”

“Now?” I asked. “I just got here.”

Rene nodded. “We saw you arrive. She sent me to fetch you right away.”

She led me through hallways packed with witches, mostly Red Cloaks but
also witches from all of the Orders, bustling to and fro. The entire building
felt alive with activity, humming like a hive. We climbed a lot of stairs
through the Tower, and turned so many corners I lost all sense of which way
we were headed.
                                                        Birk / THE VIOLIN / 12

We finally reached a door in the middle of a hallway and Rene let me into a
small room, which in turn opened on a larger one. A fireplace dominated the
far wall, and next to it, to the right, sat a long, low couch. A well-stuffed
chair sat to the left, next to a desk covered in papers and books. Along the
wall to the left of the desk, a row of tall windowed French doors let in the
sunlight while leading out to a balcony.

And then she rose from the couch, and my heart rose in my throat when she
did— Marie Chenault, the Gran Mater, her silver hair pulled up in a bun
behind her head, her sharp piercing eyes locking onto mine. She stood and
walked towards me with a fluid grace, smiling at me and extending her
hand. I curtsied before her, and my knees buckled as I did. My only thought
as I started to fall was for the violin, how sad for it to be crushed under my
clumsy body after all this time, when I was caught by two strong hands
under my shoulders.

“Rene,” said the Gran Mater, pulling me to my feet. “Pull a chair over here.
She’s exhausted.”

The Gran Mater gently set me in the chair Rene pulled up behind us, and
shushed me as I tried to apologize. “Let’s get some tea in you. It’ll chase
out the chill autumn air.”

She was on her knees in front of me, looking at my face intently, her thumb
rubbing a smudge of dirt from my cheeks. The violin felt like a heavy weight
in my lap, and it was taking everything I could to keep from crying.

“At least let the poor girl rest, Marie.” An older witch, standing near the
fire, her grey hair pulled behind her in a long tail, her red cloak draped over
her shoulders, watched me the way a hawk would a mouse in the field.
“There are more important things we need to discuss.”

Rene poured a cup of tea from the teapot steaming on the table next to the
couch. She handed it to me, and I let both hands leave the violin for the
first time since we’d left Inverness.

The Gran Mater touched the bundle in my lap. “May I?”

I nodded, and she picked it up, unwrapping it. She walked over towards the
windows and held the violin up to the light. “Marvelous. Simply marvelous.”

She looked over at me. “You can play it?”

I blinked, realizing it was a command, not a question, and nodded. An eerie
calm settled over me as I looked in her eyes. I took a sip of tea, then handed
the teacup to Rene and stood.
                                                         Birk / THE VIOLIN / 13

The Gran Mater handed me the violin. I strung the bow and stood near the
center of the room. Gran Mater sat on the couch. “Whenever you’re ready,

I decided to warm up, and started with scales. I’d found the violin to be a
temperamental instrument, capable of producing dulcet sounds in the right
mood, and horrible screeching in the wrong. I kept stopping to check that it
was in tune, but as I went up and down the bars, I seemed to be hitting all
of the wrong notes.

The older witch by the fire snorted. “I told you, Marie. I was against this
project from the start. It was a waste of time and energy.”

The Gran Mater forced a smile and I felt my blood chill. “This is important,
Lilith.” She nodded to me, “Go on, my dear.”

What little strength I had was gone. I continued through the warm-ups,
which continued to produce painful noises.

“This isn’t important,” Lilith said. “This is you bullying the other Orders,
just like you always do.”

“This isn’t about me,” the Gran Mater said forcefully.

I closed my eyes and tucked the violin under my chin. I’d come all this way,
come to where I always wanted to be, only to fail. Pierre-Louis was right,
and I felt so sad, so hollow, so empty, and all I could hear was their arguing
and I just wanted to make it go away. Before I knew it, I had counted in and
started the song.

With my eyes closed, the voice of the violin became my world, my canvas. I
tried to fill it with all that I could: the sound of my père’s laughter; the
wind whispering through the trees outside of Inverness; Henri’s smile;
watching the sunset from the roof of my parent’s house; Pierre-Louis. It all
seemed to flow through my fingers as I found I no longer had to think about
the song. I knew the song and I let the violin sing it, and where I felt hollow
and empty I started to feel calm and placid, and my sorrow began to bubble
and boil along that border with happiness so that I wasn’t quite sure which
one I was feeling, either or both. The song rose through me like the wind
through the pines, and then I remembered that it ended softly, and smiled
to myself as I let up on the bow.

I let the last note fade out and opened my eyes. All three of them were
looking at me, silently. At last, the Gran Mater pulled a handkerchief out of
her pocket to wipe her eyes and blow her nose.
                                                        Birk / THE VIOLIN / 14

“Congratulations,” Rene said with a slight smile. “No magic in the world can
silence them once they start.”

The Gran Mater knotted her handkerchief in her hand. “Rene,” was all that
she said, and then Rene’s hand was on my shoulder. “Come, dear,” she said
warmly, “Let’s find your room.”

I curtsied awkwardly to the Gran Mater and Lilith before leaving the room. I
made it four paces from the door before I started crying. The tears just
started to trickle down my cheeks and I was too tired to stop them. I
stumbled forward, determined to keep going, clutching the violin to my
chest, then Rene’s arm was around my shoulders.

“You’ll be alright, Sophie,” she said. “You really are amazing.”

“What?” I sniffled, starting to bristle.

She just hugged me tighter as she helped me walk down the hall. “I’ve been
Marie’s Prima Filia since the end of the Wolf War. I was with her the day
that she found her daughter and grand-children murdered by the Wolf King.

“The thing that struck me about that day was how calm she was. She didn’t
cry. I heard that when her husband was killed, she didn’t cry then, either.
She’s a hard woman, a warrior.” A small smile grew on Rene’s face as she
led me down the corridor. “In all the time I have known her, I have never
seen Marie Chenault come close to crying. Until today.”

She looked down on me as she opened a door and led me into a small
dormitory. I collapsed on the bed, clutching the violin to my chest. Rene
pulled the blanket up over me.

“But,” I sniffled. “But, I’m not that good.”

Rene looked at me, confused.

“I made a lot of mistakes,” I gulped. “I shouldn’t even be here.”

She smiled gently at me. “Where do you think you should be?”

I wiped my nose with my sleeve. “This place,” I said, “This place is for
witches, not clumsy mundanes. I have no magic. I should be anywhere but

Rene shook her head. “People think the Will of the Light is like a river,
carrying them along a discernible course. But it’s not. It’s like riding on the
                                                       Birk / THE VIOLIN / 15

back of a wolf, the world racing by you in a blur. The best that you can do is
hold on tightly, and trust that you’ll end up where you need to be.

“Trust in the Light, Sophie,” she said, tucking the blanket around me. “Hold
on tight, and you’ll be just fine.”

Exhausted, I fell asleep. My dreams were filled with magic which flowed
from my fingers like water, like fire, like music, magic that healed the
bleeding heart, magic that brought joy where there had been only sorrow,
light where there had been only darkness. And in the darkness of my dream I
found myself, a little girl alone in her room with her stolen primer.
Trembling, I held the violin out towards her. She looked up at me, and she
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