I T WAS WELL INTO the dark hours of night when I approached Vashet’s house, but there was candlelight flickering in her window. I didn’t doubt she would have me killed or crippled for the good of all Ademre, but Vashet was nothing if not careful. She would give it a long night’s thought beforehand.
Empty-handed, I knocked softly on her door. After a moment, she opened it. She still wore her mercenary reds, but she had removed most of the silk ties that held it tight to her body. Her eyes were tired.
Her mouth thinned when she saw me standing there, and I knew if I spoke she would refuse to listen. So I gestured entreaty and stepped backward, out of the candlelight and into the dark. I knew her well enough by this point to be sure of her curiosity. Her eyes narrowed suspiciously as I stepped away, but after a moment’s hesitation she followed me. She did not bring her sword.
It was a clear night, and we had a piece of moon to light our way. I led us up into the hills, away from the school, away from the scattered houses and shops of Haert.
We walked more than a mile before we came to the place I had chosen. A small grove of trees where a tall jumble of stone would keep any noise from carrying back toward the sleeping town.
The moonlight slanted in through the trees, revealing dark shapes in a tiny clear space tucked among the stones. There were two small wooden benches here. I took gentle hold of Vashet’s arm and guided her to sit.
Moving slowly, I reached into the deep leeward shadow of a nearby tree and brought out my shaed. I draped it carefully over a low-hanging branch so it hung like a dark curtain between us.
Then I sat on the other bench, bent, and worked the clasps on my lute case. As each of them snapped open, the lute within made a familiar harmonic thrum, as if eager to be free.
I brought it out and gently began to play.
I had tucked a piece of cloth inside the bowl of the lute to soften the sound, not wanting it to carry over the rocky hills. And I had woven some of the red thread between the strings. Partly to keep them from ringing too brightly, and partly out of a desperate hope that it might bring me luck.
I began with “In the Village Smithy.” I did not sing, worried Vashet would be offended if I went that far. But even without the words, it is a song that sounds like weeping. It is music that speaks of empty rooms and a chill bed and the loss of love.
Without pausing, I moved on to “Violet Bide,” then “Home Westward Wind.” The last had been a favorite of my mother’s, and as I played it I thought of her and began to cry.
Then I played the song that hides in the center of me.That wordless music that moves through the secret places in my heart. I played it carefully, strumming it slow and low into the dark stillness of the night. I would like to say it is a happy song, that it is sweet and bright, but it is not.
And, eventually, I stopped. The tips of my fingers burned and ached. It had been a month since I had played for any length of time, and they had lost their calluses.
Looking up, I saw Vashet had pulled my shaed aside and was watching me. The moon hung behind her, and I could not see the expression on her face.
“This is why I do not have knives instead of hands, Vashet,” I said quietly. “This is what I am.”