The violin, p.1
by Peter Birk
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 www.raioume.com for more information about the world, the books and other items. Salud!
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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 me.
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 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 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 this?”
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 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
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 context.
Reluctantly, I put the books down and started crating them up. A
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