Sylvia Woodsmith sat and gazed out the window. An autumn breeze upon his skin, the sun, glowing gold and hanging low in the sky. Branches shifted and rustled as leaves rose and fell in motion, swaying and rocking. And in the distance, empty blue skies and minarets. But it wasn’t the scene that held him captive. His eyes were always darting. Searching.
A flash of light in the distance, some glimpse of the corner of his eyes. He rubbed his eyes in exhaustion before he turned, yawned and stretched. Away from his table, noticing the pictures and letters layered in dust only recently disturbed and towards his dorm mirror. Sylvia stared at it, and his blue eyes stared back. He took a deep breath, and his mirror did the same.
“I don’t have all day Sylvia.”
Pa waited impatiently, having grown familiar with his son’s quirks. He took a generous drink from his bottle before he slumped into his chair and let out a sigh and grumbled in a cloud of alcoholic breath.
For all his disregard Sylvia knew his pa to be anything but dismissive, his eyes were always alert and following Sylvia’s every glance.
He shifted his weight as he waited, crossed his arms and then dropped them. Feigned interest in his bottle before he found something else to study. Pa snorted to himself as Sylvia remained unaware.
He made a move to depart. “I’ve got to get back to work Sylvia,” he said. His voice came out gruff and almost disinterested. Sylvia knew Pa really wouldn’t. He saw his eyes as he stood up and turned away. One steps after the next. They were heavy with loneliness, and he always kept an effort to keep Sylvia by his side. He made it to the door in four heavy steps.
“Wait pa,” Sylvia said. Pa kept his hand extended but didn’t make a further move for the handle. Pa wouldn’t really, although he still tried.
He continued to stare at his reflection for a moment before he nodded, glanced back towards his pa with a smile on his lips. He pulled up a chair, a worn, lacquered chair and pulled out a case. Opening it, he withdrew his flute. A silver concert flute which his slender hands embraced with care.
He held it against himself fondly as he traced its cool and familiar design. He hesitated for a moment, glanced upwards towards his reflection. Then he closed his eyes, brought it to his lips and began to play.
Softly at first, subtly, the winds outside began to shift. It was tentative, but there was an edge to it, impatient. It’s soft whispers grew louder, more noticeable until its pattern was audible and the winds shifted to something else. A melody.
It was an old favourite of his. And pa’s. Something mother used to play as a lullaby.
And it encompassed him, suffocating him within his emotions and desire. Sylvia could imagine the glimpse that pervaded his sight. Somewhere in the corner of his eye, a figure hidden in his reflection. It was calling him now, urging him forth.
Sylvia’s fingers moved in harmony, quickening his pace. He heard an innocent laugh. He lit the room with atmosphere as his fingers thrummed across the flute in a blind hope that he would see. It wasn’t enough.
He could almost imagine it. A figure made from the glimpses he couldn’t make out. It seemed to dance in his midst, taking delight in the music.
Sylvia’s fingers stilled as he reached a pause, the notes quivered but held still in the morning air. The figure stopped in its dance and left him with one long glance. There was a pang of emotion, something he hadn’t felt since his mother’s passing. He squeezed his eyes tight and choked back a sob.
Halfway. His hands shook, and he struggled to temper himself. A familiar hand fell on his shoulder, rough as they were callused. He opened his eyes now, the figure disappearing from his sight as he met Grom’s eyes. Pained, old and wrinkled eyes.
Sylvia let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding and took comfort in his pa’s presence. He gave him a smile, a guilty smile before he steadied himself and started again. Halfway to the song’s conclusion.
The tempo was slower now and filled with sorrow. He thought of his mother way she would brush his cheek and leave warmth reminiscent of her touch. Hold him close till his fears were forgotten.
His fingers rolled across the flute’s surface with practised ease as he brought the song towards its conclusion. The notes rang out, lower now and lower still as he tried to dispel his pa’s unease.
Sylvia smiled at him, but his eyes had since misted away. Inside, he knew, pa was crying.
There was a knock on the door and Sylvia withdrew his flute, held his breath and then let it out. The music quivered until it was still. He eyed his pa cautiously as he grumbled to himself before he stood up.
“Come in?” Pa spoke. His voice had taken a gruff tone, loud and overbearing. He tried to mask the irritation in his voice, but the drink had made him lax.
Sylvia hastened to his feet out of etiquette, well aware he didn’t come halfway to his father’s height. There was a slight pause before the door opened.
The man tipped his hat at pa in greeting.
“Wren”, pa said in return, he stood up and greeted the man like an old friend. “What brings you here?”
Wren let out a sigh. “I’m here on request from the Assembly. Mainstay’s Construction Guild, may I take a seat?”
Pa had paused before he nodded. There was more to it, but Wren took the opportunity. His eyes looked exhausted, but he collapsed into the proffered chair in a slow and controlled motion. Sylvia waited for his pa to take a seat before he took his.
Wren wasn’t a particularly tall man, but he was thin and gave him the appearance of the lanky. His face was pale, but his eyes didn’t appear weary from his journey. They looked thoughtful as they held pa’s gaze. Pa had often told him the nobility were often pale. Unaccustomed to activity outside.
Lay work they called it. Living, pa often joked.
“There are several discrepancies with your consignment with the construction guild,” Wren said.
A pause. “This is the first I have heard of it.”
Wren handed pa a contract, and Sylvia noted his hands. Soft and delicate like a ladies, without a hint of callus.
“This is your consignment correct? Delivery from Lantern Outpost Sawmills for ten tons of the highest quality elder wood lumber to be delivered within six months in five shipments. Is this correct?”
Pa narrowed his eyes, “The last shipments should leave tomorrow.”
Wren glanced at Sylvia. “Perhaps it should. we best discuss this in confidence.”
Pa paused for a moment, and he eyed Sylvia. There was a fervour in his eyes and Sylvia entertained the notion he’d be allowed to stay. “Very well Sylvia, leave us.”
Sylvia didn’t hide his disappointment. It was difficult for him but undoubtedly for pa. It was, after all, Assembly business.
He held his flute tightly and closed the door behind him quietly, and he heard his father’s voice as he made his way outside.
“…What you can say in front of me you can say in front my son.”
“You know I can’t do that.”
Pa said something, but he couldn’t make it out. There was a soft reply.
Lantern’s Outpost was a small community, clustered around a small military garrison perched on top of a hill. The population wasn’t large enough to be called a town, and if it weren’t for the lumber camps and sawmills, it wouldn’t exist on the map. Pa’s manor lay on the outskirts, some hundred metres from the nearest household which suited Sylvia fine. He trudged downhill, climbed a large rock and sat as he gazed down at the valley below.
Now nothing but an empty field of tree stumps and a receding tree line for as far as he could see. Somewhere below he knew there were dozens of men felling trees. The trees creaked and groaned as they fell. The grunt of exertion as they swung their axe, again and again.
But the wind blew away from him now, and the sounds of their efforts drifted elsewhere. Sylvia glanced down at his flute and smile. He wasn’t ever truly alone, and it seemed brighter now, in the sun. He thought of completing his song and pointed its end downwind. Backtracked a little and played again.
It was a finale of a piece that was part of him. The notes were soft, but not so sweet to be lost in the breeze. He played it in time with the wind, following its every rise and every fall. He urged the wind to grow stronger and answer his call. Louder so the music could be carried on the wind, reach far and wind as it echoed across the valley. But it remained gentle no matter how he coaxed it.
The figure was heard again. It did not dance, content to float, buoyed by the music, the wind.
Sylvia kept with it, his tempo Andante and his volume gentle, calm and almost lucid.
The figure started suddenly, and the wind picked up, and Sylvia struggled to keep pace. He made an effort to blow as something struck him, a hand he realised, and it sent him sprawling, his flute left his grasp. It was a familiar hand, large, callused and meaty.
“Why didn’t you wait for me?” Pa rumbled. He kept his anger from his face, but his body shook with it. Muscles coiled, fist cleansed. Pa took a series of shallow breaths. He struggled against his temper and held it in his eyes. The blow undoubtedly hurt him more than me, Sylvia decided, and he stared at him defiantly.
There was a moment of silence, as his hairs prickled, shivering as his pa breathed down upon him. Breath foul and sticky. Sylvia hadn’t realised the time that had passed; pa had looked so alone.
The moment didn’t last, pa snatching the flute from his hands. Sylvia lunged forward.
“It’s mine! Give it back.”
But he couldn’t reach it, held back by his pa’s enormous grasp. He turned away, aware his pa kept trying to meet his eyes, with the heat of his glare as he held the flute out of reach.
Unable to gain his attention, he cast the flute aside.
The flute whistled through the air, sounding like screams and anguish cries before it struck a far-flung tree and clattered against some loose stones below. A metallic ring filled the air.
His breath hitched, and his screaming stopped. His eyes widened in fear. He walked over to it, stepped timidly and picked it up. The reverberation disappearing to his touch, he examined it, its surface now marked and scratched.
The anger seemed to fade from Pa’s eyes. A look of regret crossed his features, and Sylvia dropped it as he hurried over to embrace his Pa. He hated it, the slump in his pa’s shoulders, the lethargic way he moved. The missing ring on his finger.
Pa turned as he left, with not another word and Sylvia rushed after him and held him tight from behind.
“I’m sorry,” Sylvia said, “I should have waited, I’m s-“
Pa shrugged him off, and Sylvia fell to his knees in silence as Pa trailed off. Deeper into the Lantern, no doubt seeking the comforts of his alcohol. Sylvia let out a deep sigh, wiped away the tears he didn’t know he was crying. He picked up his flute and trudged towards home.
“Sylvia, are you alright?” Wren asked him as he entered.
Sylvia mustered a smile, “I’m all right,” he said.
Wren looked troubled like he wanted to say something but Sylvia walked past him before he could.
“Hey,” Wren called after him, “Your father probably mentioned this, but we’re leaving tomorrow. He intended to take you with him tomorrow.”
Pa and I are heading to mainstay? Sylvia shut the door behind him and headed towards his room.
He glanced towards his desk and the mess of mementos on top. He hadn’t touched them since mother had passed but pa frequented them more regularly. He sighed as he placed the flute on his desk, amongst her other belongings.
He gazed out the window and noted how dark it was. The sun had about set, and the wind brought a chill. He continued to stare until the sun was long gone. Outside he saw pa make his way home. Drunk, alone and by himself.
Sylvia closed the window and lit some oil. The lamp brought no heat, but he tuned it and turned some knobs till it brought more warmth than it lit.
His eyes trailed towards his flute. He let out a deep breath before he grasped it.
He played softly this time, soft enough to hear pa’s steps as he approached his room. Soft enough to know he stood outside the door, he strained his ears to listen.
Sylvia played smoothly, gently in the way pa liked and he listened as he heard pa’s voice hitch. There was the sharp intake of breath and the clatter of a half empty bottle, its contents across the floor.
Outside, Sylvia could hear the wind rustle as if disturbed. The shift of branches and the rustle of leaves. He felt, more so than saw or heard the presence reappear. It was a feeling he’d since grown familiar, the comfort of being watched.
It stood somewhere outside, on a tree. Still in silent contemplation.
He paused for a moment and turned his eyes towards it. There was a slight flutter and a shifting of leaves; the figure was already gone. A small blue bird chirped quietly before it flew away. There was always next time. Sylvia shrugged as he turned away, disappointment plain to see. He pursed his lips and brought the flute to his mouth and urged himself to play.
He started again, and the atmosphere resumed. Each note grew louder, roaming, searching for the mysterious figure. Sylvia never could be sure when it returned or if it even ever went, but he knew it was drawn to his music.
It wasn’t soon before the feeling returned. It seemed cautious and afraid.
Outside, pa’s footsteps had begun once again. Where was he going?
Don’t leave. He reached out, louder till he couldn’t hear the sound of footsteps fade away. The music cried out in pain and frustration, and Sylvia played a few more lines, intent to improvise a closure.
Sylvia drew in a ragged breath, and his hands shook as he lowered his flute in frustration. Sylvia stared at the instrument, tears in his eyes. He stared out the window, set his flute aside as he stretched out a hand. Clutched his heart as he sought blindly for a comfort that was already gone.
In the silence, the sounds of birds and other creatures returned, the sound of their struggles across the night sky. He thought of pa and the pains he must’ve endured. Sylvia stood up and left the flute where it lay. He pulled the curtains and with it the sounds of nature closed. He took a step back not quite aware that there was nothing to look at now.
Sylvia stripped off his breaches for some night clothes. Then he snuffed out the lamp, still hot with residue heat, crawled into bed and grasped blindly for his flute. He found it, and it made him wonder, and he turned his attention towards his desk where mother’s mementos lay scattered.
He could barely remember her, having died when he was young. Some memories of her touch, smile and embrace. He could remember the way she tucked him in, pulled out the flute and played till he slept. . The way she used to whisper in his ear, the many children stories he once liked. But he couldn’t remember her voice, the look of her face or the sound of her laugh.
Sylvia tossed in his bed, thinking about pa. He supposed it was a good thing.
He had never been the same.
Sylvia’s sleep came uneasy, and he couldn’t tell if he was dreaming.
A hand fell upon him, limp but all too familiar. He tensed in his dream. It grasped at him, and it grew tight and familiar. Pa’s voice filled his voice and drowned out his dreams.
“I’m sorry Sylvia, I’m sorry.”
His voice was heavy, laden with alcohol and Sylvia couldn’t be sure if he was in a drunken stupor. There was a gurgle as his father took a drink. It was the last few drops before the bottle shattered against the ground. Pa slouched over, stumbled a bit and collapsed by the bed’s side. He brushed through Sylvia’s hair, noted the bruise and cried.
“I-I didn’t mean to.”
“I would never.”
His excuses were empty in the lucid dream. Sylvia wanted to say something, but his mouth wouldn’t respond. He tried to raise an arm, hold his pa, but his body wouldn’t move.
Helpless, he watched as his pa cried and cried.
“It’s alright,” Wren said. Sylvia hadn’t heard him come in. He pulled pa to his feet and searched for the sign of Pa’s distress. There was a quick glance at the desk and paused when his eyes fell upon Sylvia.
Pa murmured something in response. Something Sylvia couldn’t hear.
But Wren didn’t respond. He stared at Sylvia for what must have been a while before he pulled pa along.
This passage introduces the second protagonist of my novel. It’s quite long and to make it all the way here you must have enjoyed it! I am struggling with this, so please leave your kind thoughts below.