Lydus was so lost in his notes and preparations that he was hardly aware of the hour until Ada slammed the front door of their apartment. He turned to see her carrying a basket filled with some bread and fish.
“I cannot believe that old shrew,” she said, and slammed the door. Lydus’ stomach growled as if in reply. “The rent is all she can think of anymore. Not one word about how lovely of a day it is. Did you sleep well?” Ada moved to set the basket down, but Lydus was already at her side with his arms around her waist. She jumped a little in surprise.
“Well enough, my dear. And you will not believe who I met today.” He snuck a kiss on her cheek.
“No?” Ada replied, and gave him one back. “Tell me.”
“Oh, just another admirer calling to congratulate me on my latest premiere.”
“That is to be expected. Do I know him? Or was it a her? And if so, I hope for your sake that she is especially beautiful.”
“Really? Lord Alrid has offered you your old position back.” Lydus laughed. Not after the incident with the oboe, he thought.
“I suppose I could give you one more hint. You know of him more than you know him; his face is practically inescapable.” Reddened lips twisted in a smirk.
“Lord Rys, recently returned from the war. He wishes you to memorialize his victory in song.” Lydus kissed her again.
“Very close! More ubiquitous still.” Ada frowned in concentration and went in for a kiss on Lydus, but he pushed her back playfully. “Ah! Not until you guess correctly.”
“A man more well-known than Lord Alrid and Lord Rys, but only someone I know of… Who, indeed?” A sudden laugh of realization came over her and she moved to speak but suppressed it. “No.”
“Go on,” Lydus prompted.
“Is it… It is.” Ada did not need to speak the name for Lydus to know she had discovered it; he only nodded. Ever the practical one, his beloved’s next question did not surprise him in the least. Their lips met once more in celebration of her quick reasoning and his success. Their success.
“Now this you will not believe.” Ada’s eyes narrowed. “Come closer.” She moved one step toward him, then two. “Closer.” By now, she was nearly a hair’s breadth from the end of his nose.
When he whispered the amount in her ear, the scream that escaped her was halfway between ecstatic joy and as if she was being accosted by bandits. For a moment, Lydus feared that she may have also crushed one of his ribs in her embrace.
His coat that still fit was halfway unbuttoned when a knock came at the door; the second-most occurrence so inopportunely timed and sure to be the less pleasing. Ada looked first to his clothes and then to the door, asking without words if they should even bother to open it. Lydus began buttoning himself again in answer.
“One moment,” he said.
“I will open this door if you do-” Ada was quicker. Outside stood old Brena with a ring of keys in her hand. “I was passing by and heard a scream.”
“Indeed you did, my queen.” The landlady shot him a grimace.
“Impudent, bothersome, and worst of all, late with my rent. I should’ve put you out on the street weeks ago, composer or no.” Lydus took her hands in his for but a moment before she pulled away.
“And heaven smiles on your patience, good lady! For now you see the culmination of all your tribulation.” Brena’s forehead became even more creased than usual at that.
“Save your fancy words, Lydus. Do you have my money or not?” Reaching out for her hands once more, this time she did not recoil from Lydus’ touch.
“Brena, my angel, my loveliest flower, may you ever pine after the sight of my face again!” He took up the frail woman in his arms even tighter than he had Ada, and she swatted at him with all her inconsiderable force.
“What’s this, then? Put me down at once!”
“But why, my dearest sunshine? For henceforth, you shall never be graced with my presence again.” He released Brena after clasping her to him once more. The woman raised a hand to strike him away when he reached into his pocket and withdrew an envelope. Its presence elicited a single raised eyebrow.
“Truly?” A clawed hand snatched the paper away from Lydus and she opened it warily, as if it might contain a snake. She drew out a single, handwritten banknote, made out in her name by the royal treasurer to the amount of eight silver crowns. “About time, too. Now what’s this about never seeing you again?”
“It is that simple, my lady. Your humble guests Lydus and Ada have hit upon such a stroke of luck that we must move on to greater things.” While Brena shot him the same look of thinly veiled contempt that he had known since he first arrived in this dingy tenement on the wrong side of the river, Ada’s face was quizzical. Though he had not said a word to her until now, he assumed she would be just as happy as he was in the moment he chose to leave this place behind.
“Well, then,” Brena said, turning the banknote over in her hands. She held it up to the light, examining the play of sunlight through the paper and ink. Apparently satisfied, she put her back to Lydus and Ada, stalking back to her lair on the first floor. “You’ll have to be out by this Moon’s Day.”
“Oh, certainly! We certainly will be,” he called after her. He closed the door with vigor and faced Ada again.
“You said nothing of leaving,” she said. Concern wrinkled her brows.
“I meant to, if only the hag had not interfered first. Was it a pleasant surprise?” He leaned in to kiss her again but this time, she stepped away. Ada seated herself on the old couch near the door that looked as if the upholsterer had shot and skinned a flower shop. That would have to go as well, he noted.
“We have enough trouble with money here,” she said. “Where else could we afford to go?”
“I found a place across the river. It would make a most ideal studio, and for only seventeen crowns a month.”
“Only seventeen? You really have let this commission go to your head.” Lydus noticed the look coming over her face and took the seat next to her.
“Ada,” he said. She was slow in turning her head to face him. “It is not just the commission. Consider that we must also have a space to entertain patrons. We can hardly do that here.”
“And who are these patrons?”
“They will come. I promise you; after they hear of the work I will do for the king, they will come. They will nearly beat down our door to put my name on a title page.” Lydus reached out with tenderness reserved for only the most delicate notes and took Ada’s hands in his. They were shaking slightly. “I would have it be our name.”
“You mean it?” she asked. “You truly mean it?”
“Of course!” He wanted to laugh in that moment, but Ada only became more serious.
“And you promise that you will find patrons afterward? If this commission runs out…”
“I promise. All that is in my power to do, I will do it.” Lydus gently squeezed her fingers in emphasis. In an instant, her arms were around his neck, his head was lost entirely in tangles of chestnut hair, and his nostrils filled with the warm salt tang of fresh tears. “I know this was all you ever wanted.”
“And more,” she said. “There is more, is there not?”
“There is,” Lydus replied. “On top of an end to Lord Alrid’s hideous livery and waiting upon his whim to entertain him with yet another concert, we shall be rich, if only for a while. I have already figured our expenses. Not including the costs of production, we should have plenty and more to spare. Why, with all this, our wedding could even make your sister jealous!”
Ada laughed, a musical sound that struck Lydus deeper in that moment than could any other instrument.
“Hesia? She could envy none but the queen herself.” She took a moment to wipe her eyes. “All I ask is a wedding. The size is unimportant.”
Now that was dangerous, Lydus thought. Too much extravagance and even royal silver may not be able to pay for it all. Too little, on the other hand, and he ran the risk of appearing miserly, or else confirming the king’s fear that he be seen as a poor patron. Certainly, that was not a risk he could take once word spread of his commission and it was known that he could afford a good deal more than he paid for.
“It shall be modest,” he declared, “but not too much. Enough for Hesia to glance twice at the invitation before discarding it.” Ada’s smile revealed a dimple on each rosy cheek.
“And is everything accounted for from your commission? Down to the last copper star?”
“Not yet, no, but I count enough. You know the usual costs: engraving the score, renting the rehearsal space. Freeing a few drunken players from the town watch.” She rolled her eyes.
“Of course, silly. What I mean is may we still have some fun?” Now it was Lydus’ turn to laugh. He gave her a sly smile.
“Ah yes,” he said. “Fun. I had almost forgotten what that felt like. Yes, I believe we may. What kind of fun do you have in mind?” She whispered something in his ear as imaginative as it was filthy. “But that does not require money. Think bigger.”
“Well,” she responded. “I always wanted to take one of those little boats out on the river.”
“Up by the old castle?” Lydus could picture it in his head—though picturing Ada’s suggestion instead was quite tempting—with its crumbling curtain walls clothed in vines that grew over worn cannon holes like scars over wounds. Perhaps it had been magnificent once, but now it was only a ruin best suited for young lovers. He reminded himself gleefully that he was one, and so was Ada.
“Simple enough. How about sunset?”
“Tonight?” she asked, taken aback. “So sudden.”
“Of course. Why put it off any further? We have waited so long already.”
“You only found out I wanted it because I told you so just now.”
“Perhaps I too dreamed of those little swan boats. You must think of others for a change, my dear.” She slapped him playfully on the shoulder.
“Lydus Bereant telling another person to think of someone beside themselves. I never thought I would see it.” He gasped in feigned shock.
“You have seen it, and you will see much more.”
“Like what?” she asked, lips twisting in the grin of a child who knew that whatever wrong she did, she would get away with it. She would not be wrong for thinking so.
Lydus told her. She hit him even harder this time.