Flash Fiction challenge for Terrible Minds in which we were to write 1000 words with the sentence "A novice revenges the rhythm" somewhere in the piece.
I haven't written much lately, so I figured I should get started back into the writing habit with some short fiction. This is what I came up with. I hope you enjoy it. Feel free to comment.
“No, no! Pizzicato! Strings, you must pay attention, just one note off in this section and you will ruin us all,” Conductor Spalvortzia yelled.
The violins winced.
The nobles that paid for the orchestra demanded flawless concerts and so the conductor expected the orchestra’s playing to be perfect. Only a few measures prior Spalvortzia had berated the flutes harshly for missing their beats by the smallest breath. Such high demands were within his rights, yet it seemed he was being merciless. The orchestra had always delivered beyond expectations, without such harsh treatment, so why now?
Spalvortzia had chosen an older piece. Not only had they never seen the piece, but they had been practicing it non-stop for a week without a single benefactor hearing it. It was unheard of. The orchestra believed they had completed it flawlessly, but Spalvortzia required even more. Tensions were high.
“Again! From the top!” Spalvortzia yelled. He raised his baton. He no longer needed to look at the sheet music in front of him. He’d had the music memorized for years. The priceless sheets of vellum held deep secrets in each perfectly placed note. Secrets he never shared with anyone.
The orchestra raised their instruments and readied themselves. He could sense their frustration.
He closed his eyes and took a quick intake of breath. He let out the breath and lowered the baton. In perfect unison the clarinet began. Ah, so sweet. So gentle it started. He tempted to smile.
She was the best clarinet in all the five kingdoms. From birth she had been nestled with a clarinet in her hands. She knew how to play before she could walk. Her fingers had been bent to caress the silver keys. Ah, so lovely.
From the sweet clarinet solo the timpani joined in, so soft it sounded like the faint thunder miles away. Cello joined, a sleepy sound. Then a playful flute, a morning bird. Each instrument joined, bringing their nature and weaving it into one another. The piece was perfectly written and a masterpiece beyond words. He had heard it so many times in his mind.
The sound amplified. He could feel it in his bones. The energy, it was there! His breath quickened. His hands buzzed and he closed his eyes. There, beyond his vision, he could see the light forming. It was so flawless. The magic, the summoning. The aching need to see, the need to feel. The texts were true! Oh Gods, the electricity of it buzzed along his nerves. It was like lightning. Life in his baton, coursing down his hands. He could see it and it was better than love! He needed it more than he needed to breathe!
Spalvortzia’s hands kept moving with the rhythm but his heart beat faster and faster. His ribs were paper thin, his heart was going to rip from his chest any moment and fly into the perfect sound of the orchestra. The crescendo of the music filled his heart and his mind and all around him all he could see was the light the magic the music. It blinded him. The agony was pure. It was rapture. Every muscle in his body felt like it was on fire. It was the torment before release. It was ecstasy!
Then the horns sped up too fast.
The magic fell apart. The whole thing crashed around him in a cacophony of sound. Shards of magic pierced his skin. He felt impaled by the edges, but it was just an illusion. He fell to the ground. Had he been flying? Someone shrieked. Had everyone felt that? Someone in the orchestra broke out into spontaneous sobbing.
He stood and screamed at the horns. A raw sound. “A novice revenges the rhythm! What kind of idiots are you! This is your purpose! Your life has been devoted to this one task and you foul it up like a child? Are you pigs? Were you not raised to make music?” The horn section shrank away from him. “Your lips have been trained since birth to create music, yet you refuse to pay attention to my baton!”
The first chair horn stood up. His right hand cupped permanently to hold the notes from the horn’s bell within his misshapen hand. His mouth was perfection for horn playing, but the long lips looked irregular on his face. “I apologize for my section,” his voice was raspy from disuse. It suddenly struck Spalvortzia how inhuman the orchestra was.
Rich nobles, bent on the desire for flawless sound, had learned how to breed their musicians like cattle. Winds and brass musicians were designed take a constant input of air through the nose, down to the lungs and out through the mouth without suffocation. The changes made it nearly impossible to speak. Most of them hardly spoke.
Spalvortzia was about to say something else when the harpist’s said softly. “We will do it again, sir, and do it correctly.” She smiled. Her arms were unnaturally long. Like the pianist’s, her fingers were extraordinarily long and had a sixth finger. Like all the others, her shoulders had been altered to take the weight of her instrument. “This is the first time,” she said, “that I felt that before. The magic in the music. Is this why we’ve practiced so hard?” Her voice carried through the hall, tremulous but with a hint of a new emotion.
The anger he’d felt washed away.
“It is why we must play.” He tapped the ancient score. “We must play it perfectly. Not just note, but tone, pitch, emotion. Everything must be perfection for the spell to work.”
“Spell?” The first violin asked. Shoulders were thickened on one side for his instrument to rest against. The opposing arm was thin and delicate for bow strokes. “As the legends say?”
“Yes. The drought, the famine our five lands have suffered from, all can be cured with the magic spells found in these texts. It’s why we were born. Have you not wondered that?” Spalvortzia asked, looking over the orchestra. Few of them had wondered, he realized. “We are not just playthings for the nobles, objects to play their symphonies and keep them entertained while the people suffer. I will show you. We are an instrument of change, of hope. We were born not to entertain, but to change the five kingdoms! For that, we must be perfect. Again, from the top!”
He felt something different in the orchestra. He smiled as he raised his baton. Something different? Hope?