Perhaps the greatest secret of composition, especially the spontaneous variety, was that there was hardly anything spontaneous about it. Every bit of flair and harmonic trickery ever displayed on keys or strings had already been worked out a hundred times in some cramped, dark room before it ever premiered onstage. Lydus considered it in much the same way as he would a meat pie: the results appeared more appetizing as long as one was ignorant of the process behind them. Learn too much of the details and knowledge quickly took the place of appetite.
That being said, the first week of work on his commission had not been his most difficult ever. It was a feeling he recognized and feared he would soon come to miss; enough time still remained that he could look forward to its expiration, with the rush of his deadline yet far off. Thankfully, his previous contract with Lord Alrid had only placed the rights for completed pieces in the Lord of Vanterburg’s sole possession, leaving notes and sketches with Lydus. What this meant was that two symphonies, a fanfare, and nearly a dozen songs would have to wait until Lord Alrid finally chose to die before they could be performed outside the city again without the man’s written consent. Only a couple of these he truly regretted having completed at that time, but all that was in the past. At present, much greater prospects helped to soothe him, as well as the great collection of notes still his to use, and use them he would.
He spent the first few days revisiting those notes in search of anything that was not too banal or derivative for a symphony to be emblazoned with the name of Queen Saraen Reschanant Loresin. Much to his chagrin, that constituted an overwhelming majority. In amongst all that, however, he rediscovered a handful of useable bits. Here was a melody he had once thought to use as a march, later abandoned during the writing of his Terestin symphony. Perhaps it could make a pleasant dance with a change of tempo and enough flourishes.
An embarrassingly large number of pages distant from that, he found a string of cadences that had once kept him up all night in vain trying to elaborate and place into something larger. If in this revisitation these pieces were again returned to his notes to await a future burst of inspiration, that was no great loss. Every scrap of music, whether brilliant or unlistenable, was ultimately an exercise in what might succeed and what would not. If he should be left with comparatively more of the latter, no one else would have to know.
Perhaps his great-grandfather and namesake had also produced a similarly unsightly glut of refuse, but that too would never be known. Old Mattis Bereant had seen to that when he burned all of his father’s notes at his death. Lydus had once toyed with the same idea, thinking it a parting insult to his own father and his hopes of perpetual income should the son meet some untimely fate, but he soon recanted on that proposal. A much better revenge would be simply to outlive the bastard than condemn any future children to poverty on account of his own pettiness.
The latter consideration weighed on him presently as well. While he could not say whether it was more Ada’s doing or his own, thoughts of marriage brought with them thoughts of its fruits. It was not a subject he had given himself to much before, even though Ada and he had done nearly everything in their power to bring it to his mind. Already it had been enough to drive out a musical idea on several occasions, which frustrated him more than anything. The two of them had already agreed: she would take on the details of their ceremony, while he would work to bring about the means to afford them. More than a year at her side had shown her to be thriftier than expected for one of noble blood, so the cost itself would be no obstacle. He only wondered what the obstacle was—especially here in their new, larger apartment—but where Lydus saw sufficient space for one of Mustrian’s new dynamic keyboards, Ada envisioned filling the same with children instead.
He had nothing against children. In fact, he genuinely wanted them someday, though he could not give an ideal number or preference for either names or genders. When he thought about how he would raise them, he liked to think of himself as being firm but fair, loving in all the ways that his father’s generation had been taught to avoid for fear of rendering their sons effeminate and daughters unruly. The idea almost made him laugh. In a world of such virile specimens as soldiers and sailors, a composer must seem a dreadful waste of manhood, while Ada had a harlot’s modesty and a dockman’s tongue. Any offspring they bore must necessarily be a combination of both: an unholy terror. Was it always the child’s fate to raise his own in either mimicry of or opposition to his parents? Lydus could not be sure, having never attempted either; what he did know was that none of his children would grow up to be a musician.
Lydus’ shoulders arched involuntarily at the teasing touch of fingers on his neck. Spinning from his seat in feigned rage, he caught Ada in the act.
“You devil!” he cried, which sent her retreating toward the fireplace. She took up the iron poker from beside the hearth, leading Lydus to respond in kind with the brush.
“On your guard,” she said and assumed an exaggerated duellist’s pose. Lydus struck first, driving his opponent back a few paces, but only briefly; she soon gained the advantage and pressed it until he was forced in among the curtains.
That was the final straw. He rapped at her fingers with his chosen weapon, leaving a puff of soot behind on her bright blue sleeve. In mock rage, she cast aside her implement onto the brick hearth and pushed aside Lydus’ own with one hand while swatting at him with the other. A few more dabs of ash fell around her shoulders before he abandoned his futile attack altogether and swept her up at her knees.
Ada let out an embarrassing yelp and then burst into laughter as he lost his balance and stumbled, leaving them both laid out on that unsettlingly floral couch which he had sworn would be gone within the week.
For a moment, they both lay still, catching their breath. Her eyes found his and considered him as if they were searching for something, though he could not say what.
“You really are a child, Lydus,” she said softly, as one hand brushed loose hair out from in front of his face.
“And you are not much older. Besides, what difference do four more years make anyway?”
“They should be enough for me to know better than to marry for love instead of money. To think that I could have been engaged to marry Ferant instead of some impish composer.” Lydus snickered.
“Oh, that dye merchant? He was so unbearably dull; you would have no entertainment whatsoever with him.”
“That dull man is currently sailing for Lenas’ Islands and will return richer than a lord.”
“Yes, but when he arrives, he will find himself surrounded by innumerable beautiful women in every imaginable state of undress. Though knowing him, he is so dull that somehow, he will still find a way to not enjoy himself.” Ada’s eyes narrowed.
“Would you enjoy yourself?” she inquired.
“Certainly not,” Lydus answered. “The heat would be most unagreeable and I can see no purpose in sailing all that way just to be turned into supper like poor Ergenio.”
“Did they really eat him?” she asked, brows furrowed in concern.
“I assume so. I never actually read the book.”
“What was the last book you read? And when?” Lydus only smiled mischievously.
“The King of Oravia does not pay me to lounge about reading books; only to drink, fornicate, and write him music as the occasion demands.”
“But not for long,” his paramour added.
“Well, yes, it is only a temporary contract, bu-”
“No, I mean the fornication.” She whispered the last word as if the two of them were not already less than a hand’s breadth away from each other.
“Of course. And how go the preparations for our coming marriage?”
“Well enough,” Ada said. “Taela at the market agreed to give me a discount on our flowers, and my father nearly agreed to pay for the feast.”
“The mention of your commission must have awakened something in him. Thirty-one years I have watched him and he still treats the idea of romantic behavior as if it were some foreign thing; not repulsive but incomprehensible at the same time.”
Lydus could almost commiserate with his future bride’s father. Though sentimentality was practically a composer’s only trade, public displays of it still made him somewhat uneasy. By now, this was a familiar contradiction for him.
“How did Lord Fredick ever get married without a single show of emotion?” he wondered aloud.
“Great-grandfather’s gold did not harm his prospects.”
“Then we have that in common! I will be sure to broach the subject at our next meeting.”
“And have it be your last?”
“Please?” Ada did not appear as amused as Lydus. “I kid!”
“I want to believe you,” she said with a humph. “I know my father is stodgy.”
“And tedious. But it would be wise for you to stay in his good graces, at least until he has paid his share of our expenses. Will you do that for me?”
For not the first time in his life, Lydus’ first instinct was to conjure up a witty response. He could not say that this sort of behavior had served him well—in fact, he would be among the many to say that it had been overwhelmingly detrimental—but only that it had been entertaining. However, this vast experience had also taught him that there was value in acquiescence and even silence, loathe as he was to admit it.
Now was one such time.
“Yes,” he said. Ada raised her eyebrows slightly as if waiting for a further addition; she smiled pleasantly when none came.
“How reasonable of you.”
“I can be. Now what would you say if I suddenly became unreasonable again?”
“I would wonder what took you so long.” He could only laugh.
“Well,” he replied, “hear me out. As you may recall, we once entertained the possibility of having fun. You know, now that the king has paid me three times my old salary in one quarter of the time.”
“I do recall that. I also remember that we did have fun, at least until you nearly capsized our boat.” And he might not have done so if the riverbank had not been so steep, but that was well outside his ability to control.
“Only nearly. As I was saying, we still have considerable means for fun, if you would be so inclined this evening.” Ada’s face lit up.
“Oh? And what sort of vanities does the great composer have in mind?”
“It has come to my attention that the Silver Spur has acquired a single cask of Calliran wine from King Lenas’ personal vineyard.” Ada barely suppressed a gasp.
“But if they are caught…” She did not have to state the penalty for smuggling, especially with any goods even slightly royal in nature.
“Precisely why we must drink our fill of it tonight. No need to leave Master Tirus with something so incriminating in his cellar.”
“Then we have not a moment to lose!” Ada said, and pushed herself up off Lydus and made her way to the bedroom.
It was good to see her so eager for a night’s entertainment. Months of pinching every copper after his sudden dismissal from the Lord of Vanterburg’s service had been borne with her usual patience. That she could cast it all off so quickly delighted him more than anything, since he had anticipated a much more arduous period of convincing. Without a clue as to how much the rundown innkeeper of a rundown inn could charge for wine as illegal as it was exquisite, he could only assume it would be exorbitant.
Fortunately, Lydus was in an exorbitant mood.
They dressed well but quickly. While the Silver Spur was most certainly not a place where anyone from this side of the river would deign to drink and carouse, Lydus and Ada were not from this side of the river. Still, they must look the part of those who could afford to drink away the daily wages of an entire carpenter’s shop in a single evening. The cost could be even more dear, if Master Tirus knew the true value of his prize, but Lydus was prepared to spend for it regardless.
The sky took on an orange and purple cast as they reached the inn, on the main road between the bridge that he had crossed not too many days prior and the filthy apartment he had escaped from not long after that. Only a handful of patrons sat scattered about the common room this early, as many of them would likely still be completing their work at the various fishing docks along the Lurent or in one of several dozen shops and mercantiles nearby. Lydus pitied them.
Master Tirus greeted them warmly and cast a wary eye around at the first mention of illicit wine but if Lydus was trusted anywhere, it was here. Soon enough, the inn wheeled about him like the stars of the firmament as he led a growing chorus of the most untrained voices in all of Gente in songs far too lewd for a king’s composer.
When the sun woke Lydus the next morning in his bed, still fully dressed and his money pouch stowed safely in his pocket, he glanced over at Ada dozing at his side and reasoned that the previous night must have gone well after all.