26. Rhythm

She still couldn’t figure out how Gray got his fingers to move like that. They seemed to glide across the frets, barely touching the wood. As he continued to play up on the stage, she glanced down at her hands.

They were too small, she rationalized. As she looked back up at the stage, she spread her fingers as far apart as she could manage. She tried to match the way Gray’s fingers bend, using the edge of the table as her own instrument. No matter how hard she tried, they just wouldn’t cooperate the way his seemed to.”

“Why so grumpy, Ophelia?”

“I can’t do it like you and Gray can. I’ve been practicing for at least an hour every day, just like you said. My fingers don’t work, Wraith.”

“Nonsense, they work just fine. Here, let me see them.” The woman held her hands out for the girl’s, turning the hands over front to back as they were placed in hers. “Hmm, as I suspected. They’re just fine.”

She bent each blood red digit, causing the girl to giggle. Wraith even bent them to take the shapes of the chords Gray played.

“See? Working perfectly. It just takes lots and lots of practice.”

“How does he do it so fast, though? It’s the extra joint, isn’t it?”

“Could be.” Wraith nodded. “He also has been playing for longer than three lives. You know how he loves that story.”

“It isn’t fair. I’ll never be as good as he is.”

“Aww, never say never.” Wraith tousled the girl’s violet hair. “Tell you what. I’ll ask him to stop over here after his set. He’ll be glad to hear that you’ve been practicing.”

“Okay. He won’t be disappointed that I can’t do it like him?”

“Of course not, Hun. Now enjoy the set.” Wraith was very careful to avoid the horns that hadn’t finished growing as she kissed the top of the girl’s head.

 

“There’s my favorite little Bardess in Training.”

“Gray!” The girl threw herself at the elf’s knees, hugging them tightly. “You sounded really good.”

“Thank you.” he ran his hand through her hair. “Wraith told me that you’ve been practicing.”

“Yeah.” she nodded, releasing his legs and plopping back into her chair, staring up at him. “I’ve been working on the fingerings that you showed me the last time you were in town.”

“Good, good.” he smiled, pulling up one of the other chairs. “Let’s see then.” When the girl went to grab the edge of the table, he shook his head. “Here.”

He removed the strap from his lute, smiling when her eyes widened. He remembered, for the briefest of moments, what it was like to be that young and excited. She took it carefully from it when he held it out, running a finger along each string. Once they made their way to the fret board, she had less a look of reverence, and more one of determination.

“This one is….A, right?”

“Yes. Go ahead, strum. Your fingers are correct.” he nodded as she did so. “A good first try. Now, move them to F.”

 

Thi went on for a good hour: he even walked her through the basics of a very short song. The girl was a quick study, which was good. They only lived as long as humans did, even with the horns.

“I have to go back now.” Ophelia sighed sadly, holding the instrument back out to Gray. “Do you know when you’ll be back?”

“I never know, Red.” he looked down at the instrument and smield again. “Know what….Keep it.”

“What? No, I couldn’t-”

“I have others.” he assured the girl. “I want you to keep it. That way, when I come back through town again, you’ll be even better.”

Ophelia stared down at the lute with wide eyes again. Setting it on the table she stood, hugging him tightly again. Gray smiled, rubbing the girl’s back gently when he heard the tiny sniffle.

“I wish I could go with you.”

“When you’re older, Little Red.” he promised her. “We’ll get into all sorts of trouble, and you’ll wish you had stayed here where it’s quiet and boring.”

She shook her head about the second half, slowly stepping back and releasing him.

“You promise?”

“Cross my ancient heart.” he drew a little “X” over the center of his chest. “Now, get home before you get into trouble with your mother.”

He watched her delicately put the lute across her back with the strap he handed back to her, as if it was something far more precious than stained wood. She ran out of the inn, beaming as she bounced.

“She’s going to be trouble one day.”

“I’m counting on it Wraith.” Gray chuckled. “Otherwise, I just lost a perfectly good lute.”

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Filed under Flash Fiction, Stories, The Blackbirds

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