Kara felt the beat of the drums pounding through her veins as she checked the tuning on her fiddle. She automatically inspected it for the slightest dust or smudge on the pale green finish. There was not a dent or flaw in the wood. The matching bow was just as well tended. As the wind swept up the hillside, it tugged at her long, black braid. She absently brushed a stray strand out of her brown eyes and walked up the hill to where Ada slowly took out her viola. It had darkened with age, the varnish dulled by time and small dents in the wood added to its character. She lovingly removed the faded red silk cloth covering. The wooden case was battered and held together with straps of leather that were obviously not original to the design. Kara had often wondered how old the fiddle was; Ada would only say it had belonged to her grandfather. The bow had been a gift from Kara. The one she’d been using when they met had snapped one winter’s night. This was the fifth bow she’d owned during the time Kara had known her. Remnants of the previous four were stored in the case along with bits of string, resin, and horsetail hair.
Upon reaching the hill crest, Kara took in the army on one side and the enemy camp just visible across the valley down the other slope. Pre-dawn light was chasing the last of the stars out of the sky. Ada’s silver hair was loose and wild in the wind, obscuring her face. The set of her shoulders worried Kara; Ada had been fretting since yesterday’s sunset. Kara laid a hand upon her arm and Ada straightened and turned so the wind blew her hair clear of her amber eyes. She was ready.
Ada set her bow to the strings of her viola then started with a steady lilting tune. She repeated the melody, taking it half a step higher. It rose up another half step, back down, then she returned the tune to home. The tune circled around again and again to add to the intensity of the drums. It rolled out over the battlefield and camps. Songbirds fell silent, the wind still. Kara raised her own bow and joined in with her violin, matching her note for note, her dark slender fingers danced along the neck of her fiddle. Its light voice complemented the darker tones of the viola. Ada carried the driving rhythm as Kara switched to an aching lament for those who would die that day. The bittersweet notes rang out, carrying their prayers to Setheria, asking that ze prepare to receive them in Merethe.
Ada’s army gathered quietly below, final adjustments made to armor and weapons. Pipes were checked. Flutes tuned to produce the purest and most deadly notes. Drum heads were tightened. Friends gave each other knowing looks and shook hands, patted backs. Each knew the lament could be for her or him; for the soldier standing next in line. Priests and priestesses walked among them, dabbing their foreheads with the blue dye that marked them as one of the Dreezians.
Kara followed the progress of the holy ones. When they appeared to be nearly done with their blessings, she returned to the first tune, playing with Ada a few rounds before she stilled her strings.
Ada’s lithe form swayed with the music, her eyes were closed in concentration. The bodhrans were the next to fall silent. She carried the song a little further as the troops finished gathering. The drums gradually dropped out until only one remained. Ada then allowed the song to close. She was as still as her fiddle, the bow resting in the air just above the strings. A lone snare drum beat the cadence three more times.
The Dreezians were going to war.
Ada lowered the fiddle and bow. She stared out across the silent valley. She asked wearily, “How did it come to this? Where did I take the wrong road?”
Kara cradled her fiddle, thinking on the answer. “Well, like most things, it began with a birth and a death.”
“Tell me the story one more time,” she said softly, “Stop time and show me again why we are going to war with the Jormuna.”
Kara sighed. “Very well, beloved.” She hummed a tone, letting it fill her throat before loosing it into the world. Time slowed and the space around them – the camps, the battlefield, the sky itself – was drained of all color. She offered Ada her hand. “Come.”
copyright 2014, Kimberley Long-Ewing, all rights reserved